Friday 28 April 2006

Contrapuntal Beatles mania

Life is very short and there's no time for fussing and fighting my friends, so I will ask you once again: Baby, will you drive my car along the long and winding Abbey Road on a magical mystery tour all across the universe through Strawberry Fields with tangerine trees and marmalade skies and cellophane flowers of yellow submarine and green? Mean Mr Mustard, day tripper, sleeps in the park, while in Penny Lane the barber shaves another customer, shaves in the dark trying to save paper back writer - Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book? It took me years to write, will you take a look? It's a thousand pages, give or take a few, I'll be writing more in a week or two - I can make it longer if you like the style and I'll send all my loving with love from me to you, so please Mister Postman, please please me, love me do, I need you, help, I need somebody, help, not just anybody, help, you know I need someone. I'll get by with a little help from my friends, Eleanor Rigby, lovely Rita, and Lady Madonna, who don't let me down behind the shelter in the middle of a roundabout because, being for the benefit of Mr Kite, the Hendersons will all be there fixing a hole beneath the blue suburban skies many years from now. It's been a hard day in a life's night and I've been working like a dog eight days a week yesterday, it's all too much but it's getting better all the time - we can work it out. I should be sleeping like a log of Norwegian wood, isn't it good, little darling? Here comes the sun - hey Jude, come together right now over me - I'm a real nowhere man, sitting in his nowhere land, making all his nowhere plans for nobody except the fool on the hill, the man of a thousand voices talking perfectly loud, but nobody ever hears him, or the sound he appears to make, and he never seems to notice the sun going down.

Hello, goodbye.

Yours aye,

P.S. I love you.

Tuesday 25 April 2006

Scottish wedding

Two Scotsmen are discussing an upcoming wedding. The best man says to the groom, "What will you be wearing?"

The groom says, "Aye, I'll be wearing the kilt."

The best man asks, "So what's the tartan?"

To which the groom replies, "Oh, she'll be wearing white."

Loose Change: 2nd Edition (2006) - ickleReview (Google Video)

Intriguing conspiracy theory documentary about the 9/11 terrorist attacks, suggesting the American government might have attacked its own people by planting bombs in the World Trade Center. There was also little evidence that a plane had actually crashed into the Pentagon. Some good archival footage with copious (but probaby flawed) documentation.

Nugget: gripping, but a pinch of salt is needed.

Wag the Dog (1997) - ickleReview (DVD)

A disciple of Network, Wag the Dog tells the story of spin-doctor Conrad Brean (Robert De Niro), who is hired by the President to cover up a sex scandal (pre-empting the Lewinsky affair). Brean (aka "Connie") immediately begins to manipulate the media by denying the existence of the B-3 bomber, which doesn't exist, and then proceeds to manufacture a war with Albania to distract the media's attention for 11 days until the presidential election. He enlists the help of Hollywood producer Stanley Motss (Dustin Hoffman) to create a pageant of war, including an image, a soundtrack, and merchandizing tie-ins.

The screenplay, co-written by David Mamet, is as tight as you would expect. Anne Heche gives a strong supporting performance as Winifred Ames, one of the President's top media aides. A rip-roaring indictment of the way the media game works. Brilliantly funny and painfully true.

Nugget: Why does a dog wag its tail? Because a dog is smarter than its tail. If the tail were smarter, the tail would way the dog.

Network (1976) - ickleReview (video)

Sidney Lumet film about a fictional American TV network, UBS, struggling in the ratings war. The prime-time evening newscaster, Howard Beale (Peter Finch), is sacked, and then announces on air that he will commit suidice, which gives a huge boost to the ratings. An ambitious programmes developer, Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway), wants to exploit Beale's sudden popularity; but the head of the news, Max Schumacher (William Holden), is unhappy about compromising his standards. The news division is being put under pressure to become more profitable by the owning corporation, led by Frank Hackett (Robert Duvall).

The satire of crass TV is done with a straight face. There's a hilarious contract negotiation between lawyers, agents, and the radical Communist terrorists, the Ecumenical Liberation Army, whom Diana has commissioned as the basis of her Mao Tse Tung Hour. In an amazing late scene, Hackett and Diana discuss the need to murder Howard Beale to win their corporate power struggle. The narrator, Lee Richardson, tells the story with all the pomp of an NFL Films production.

It's a very self-aware film, becoming self-reflexive in the implausible and doomed affair between Schumacher and Diana, who keep wondering how their "plot" will turn out.

Beale becomes an American icon, famed for his manic outbursts: "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore," he screams, encouraging his viewers to shout out of their windows in a hair-raising scene of movie magic.

Nugget: a classic, hard-hitting film: slick, tightly written, and prophetic.

Sunday 23 April 2006

Dead Poets Society (1989) - ickleReview (TV)

Inspirational ensemble piece about a New England prep school in the 1950s. Robin Williams gives a charming performance as Mr Keating, the English teacher with unconventional teaching methods, imbuing his pupils with a zest for life and a will to independent thought. (He reminds me of my own Mr Williams at Merchiston Castle School.) A strong cast includes Ethan Hawke as Todd Anderson, a shy boy of great potential, who blossoms under Keating's tutelage; Robert Sean Leonard as his father-pecked roommate; Kurtwood Smith as the father; and Josh Charles, amongst a whole classful of vivid characters.

This is a feelgood film and a potential tear-jerker; but was a little more twee than I remembered from previous viewings. The Dead Poets Society (surely that needs a plural apostrophe?) is a clandestine reading group revived by Keating's pupils, following in his own tradition as an alumni of their school.

Nugget: Williams's most endearing performance?

Sunday 16 April 2006

Edward Tomlinson

I knew Edward Tomlinson only vaguely. We'd shared a room together in the Oxford youth hostel during my very first week in the city: during the U21s pre-season rugby training camp in 2001. One of his friends wrote about his death here. There was also a report in the Daily Telegraph.

Wednesday 12 April 2006

The Bourne Identity (2002) - ickleReview (TV)

Superfast, supercool, supertinyplotflawrattlingaroundannoyingothercritics. Just watch the damn film, man; it's a good bit of harmless fun. Starring Matt Damon as a spy with not a lot of memory but a hell of a lot of processor, if you catch my drift: he gets things done. Fast. Ever get the feeling someone's out to get you? Yeah, be glad your name isn't (or might be if you could only just figure out what's happened to you) Jason Bourne. I should have watched this a long time ago.

Nugget: wham, bam, thank you ma'am.

Friday 7 April 2006

New York Doll (2005) - ickleReview (cinema)

Documentary about Arthur "Killer" Kane, the former bassist for the gender-bending glam-rock band of the early 1970s, the New York Dolls

Nugget: a remarkable story that develops during the making of the film.

Please go to FilmExposed for the full review.

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

Thursday 6 April 2006

Hostel (2005) - ickleReview (cinema)

Brutally violent film about two American backpackers' misadventures in Europe.

Nugget: more laughs than screams.

Please go to FilmExposed for the full review.

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

Bad Education (2004) - ickleReview (DVD)

Almodóvar film. Very intricate plot involving three or more levels of narration: a story within a story within a story. Two old school friends meet after many years apart. They were each other's first love. Ignacio, now calling himself Angel, gives Enrique, a film director, a short story called "The Visit", partly based on their schooldays - an exposé of the Catholic priesthood. There's lots of gay sex and joie de vivre, vibrant colours, beautiful skin and balletic cinematography; but the plot is confounding with all the fast-paced whadafuck moments of film noir. At times the soundtrack is at odds with what you might expect of the mood of the film, and the slick editing weaves the different layers of the film together, so it sometimes takes a moment or two to realize which level of the film you are seeing. At one stage, you see the film filming itself - a classic moment of postmodern self-reflexivity. A bit of a headfuck movie, therefore, but a very enjoyable one with much humour and a luminous performance by Gael García Bernal in multiple roles.

Nugget: good to see a DVD with original cinematic subtitles rather than unclear, pixellated computerized ones.

Monday 3 April 2006

Pierrepoint (2005) - ickleReview (cinema)

British film about Albert Pierrepoint - among the last generation of British executioners (the alternative title is The Last Hangman). For Pierrepoint (played by Timothy Spall) it is a family business. He takes pride in following in his father's profession and becomes an expert in the technique of hanging, trying to perform the execution in as humane a way as possible. He tries to beat the average of 13 seconds from entering the condemned's cell to death. Pierrepoint is so proficient at it that after the war he is personally recommended to Montgomery to carry out the high-profile hangings after the Belsen concentration camp trials, including the infamous Beast of Belsen. He has to carry out 47 hangings in one week. Over his entire career he executed 608 people - both men and women.

Spall gives the best on-screen performance by a British actor since Jim Broadbent in Iris (2001). He is so moving - combining the ruthless, cold professionalism with a real human conscience. We see him struggling with the morality of what he does, especially when he loses his anonymity after the Belsen executions. He becomes a celebrity and local hero - but gradually the villain as the anti-capital punishment protests grow.

Director Adrian Shergold conducts a perfectly pitched film with innovative cinematography by Danny Cohen. His over-the-shoulder shooting style confronts the audience with the reality of the hangings and his revolving camera makes Pierrepoint's precision seem at times balletic. Nigel Edwards and Reg Mills's sound mixing creates such a vivid atmosphere: you can hear every toke on cigarette or cigar, every chink of a keychain, every last breath. A beautiful, beautiful film - full of the horror and humanity that Pierrepoint faced of his own volition.

This is the best of British cinema: the blue-grey lens filters reflect the bleakness of the 1930s-40s; and yet there is still warmth and humanity in the faces of the cosy pub the Pierrepoints run later in life. Juliet Stevenson gives a wonderful performance as Pierrepoint's wife, Annie, who deals with the knowledge of what her husband does with the same noble stoicism he has to show. There is also a strong supporting performance by Eddie Marsan as Pierrepoint's pub singing partner, Tish.

Nugget: simply one of the best British films I've ever seen. Confident, assured cinema.