Tuesday 29 August 2006

A Bug's Life (1998) - ickleReview (TV)

Pixar animation about a colony of ants who live on an island, terrorized by grasshoppers, who demand they provide food for them. Flik (voiced by Dave Foley) is a clumsy, unpopular male ant who keeps messing things up. He is sent away for knocking over the huge stockpile of food the ants had prepared as an offering for the grasshoppers. Hopper (Kevin Spacey), the leader of the grasshoppers, orders the ants to gather twice as much food by the time the last leaf falls at the end of the summer. Flik ventures to the city to look for help and finds it in a rag-bag of failed circus performers, including a German catterpillar called Heimlich (Joe Ranft), a gender-conflicted ladybird called the suitably unisex name Francis (Denis Leary), and a stick insect called Slim (David Hyde Pierce), butt of many jokes e.g. slapstick after being slapped, who return to the ant colony with him to fight against the grasshoppers.

Nugget: not the best Pixar movie. Roughly level with The Incredibles (2004) for laughs and Monsters, Inc. (2001) for character appeal, but nowhere near the standard of Toy Story 2, which remains my favourite.

Monday 28 August 2006

Bug Juice

Yes! I've found it at last! This brings back fond memories of the summer of '98 when my sister and I used to watch this every morning. It started off as a bit of a joke. A bit like Friends, we thought it was a bit naff ("Real kids at summer camp!"); then it started to grow on us, to the extent that I would set the video to record it if I was going to miss it. Don't knock it until you've tried it and watched at least three episodes.

Saturday 26 August 2006

Bullets Over Broadway (1994) - ickleReview (video)

Woody Allen comedy set in the 1920s. John Cusack plays David Shayne, a struggling playwright who sells out to the mob to produce his new play on Broadway. The gangster financing the spiel, Nick Valenti (Joe Viterelli), insists that his flapper chorus girl, Olive (Jennifer Tilly), is given a part and is protected by her bodyguard, Cheech (Chazz Palminteri). Dianne Wiest is hilarious as the prima donna star actress Helen Sinclair, for whom David soon develops an infatuation as she has him entirely under the thumb. He begins to compromise his artistic integrity, even taking writing advice from Cheech, effectively rewriting the whole play. Jim Broadbent plays Warner Purcell, a talented but over-the-hill British actor with a compulsive eating habit whenever he gets nervous. There's barely a scene in which he's not eating.

Brillig fun, this film, made with real affection for the jazz age of gin joints and chorus lines, mobsters and thesps. The best line is of course delivered by Dianne Wiest's character talking to John Cusack on a train, flattering his ego after an off-Broadway opening in Boston: "You stand on the brink of greatness. The world will open to you like an oyster. No...not like an oyster. The world will open to you like a magnificent vagina."

Nugget: up there with the best of Allen's light-hearted comedies. Certainly one of the best films in which he doesn't act himself.

Remember Animal vs. Buddy Rich?

Remember this post? Here's the proof that I was right. (The video is in Italian; but the drumming is in the universal language of ROCK!...well, okay, jazz.)

Friday 25 August 2006

Butterfly on a Wheel (2007) - ickleReview (cinema)

I've been asked by the UK production company Telescope Pictures to remove my review from this blog and delete my posts on the IMDb and Empire - Future Films message boards. I shouldn't have written the review in the first place - not without permission. Suppose I was abusing a privilege. Sorry about that. If we had been warned about this sort of thing before the test screening, and been made to sign an agreement not to post any reviews or comments on the internet, then none of this censorship would have been necessary.

Nugget: regardless of what I thought about Butterfly on a Wheel (it's actually pretty good; just not the sort of film I usually go for), I don't think my scribblings would have done much damage. Surely any interest generated in the film (positive, negative or indifferent), especially amongst fans of the actors (who are going to see the film and talk about it anyway), is a good thing: viz. Snakes on a Plane, which seems to have embraced the internet buzz culture and is set to make a packet at the box office.

Rob Gonsalves, "Radfahren Im Herbst"

Acryl auf Leinwand, 1994

I nicked this from the Zizek conference poster from the School of European Studies, Cardiff University. I have no intention of attending; I just liked the picture. Posted by Picasa

Thursday 24 August 2006

Why do I still do this every day?

I wrote a post about this sign on the M40 between Oxford and London back in December 2004. Now I have finally managed to take a picture of it. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday 23 August 2006

Heat (1995) - ickleReview (TV)

Michael Mann crime thriller starring Al Pacino as an LA police detective and Robert De Niro as the criminal gang leader he's chasing. Made with Mann's distinctive flair. At 171 minutes long, it does become a little sluggish. The plot and dialogue are a bit noir, so you're not entirely sure what's going on, but at least you have to pay attention. The violent action scenes are brutalizing: there's a stunning robbery of an armed van and a spectacular shoot-out in daytime city streets after a bank robbery. The most impressive sequence is the climactic chase between Pacino and De Niro near an airport runway, puckered by silences and dramatic changes in lighting.

Nugget: an intelligent and nuanced film that will reward a second viewing, but at almost an hour too long, a re-view is asking a lot.

Monday 21 August 2006

The Cooler (2003) - ickleReview (TV)

Las Vegas casino drama starring William H. Macy, Alec Baldwin and Maria Bello. Bernie (Macy) is a "cooler", a casino employee beset by infectious bad luck, which he takes to the table whenever someone is getting too lucky. His very presence breaks their winning streak. He's indebted to an old friend and casino owner Shelly (Baldwin), who once smashed up Bernie's knee, giving him a permanent limp. He runs his casino the old-fashioned way and refuses to modernize, despite the advice of Larry (Ron Livingston), who wants to rebuild the place to ensure it's not left behind by its rivals.

Bernie is a week away from retirement but Shelly doesn't want to see him go, so he pays Natalie to seduce him to give him a reason to stay in Las Vegas. The plan doesn't quite work out for Shelly as Bernie's luck begins to change.

Nugget: interesting complement to Casino (1995), Leaving Las Vegas (1995) and Ocean's Eleven (2001), but not quite up to their standard of entertainment. Good performances by the three principals, nevertheless. They do their best with the material they are given.

Double Indemnity (1944) - ickleReview (TV)

Classic Billy Wilder film noir, part scripted by Raymond Chandler and based on the novel by James M. Cain. An insurance salesman, Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) gets involved in a plot with the wife of one of his clients, Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) to kill her husband and claim accident insurance against his death. "Double indemnity" is a clause in the policy that pays out double in certain unlikely scenarios, such as death on a train.

The story is narrated in retrospect by Walter Neff, confessing his involvement by recording a memo to his claims manager Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson). The dialogue is snappy and stylized, hard and witty - if delivered a little woodenly, especially by MacMurray.

Neff has a habit of lighting Keyes's cigars for him by flicking a match with his fingers. He smokes heavily himself and has an old-fashioned attitude to "dames" and "babes" and a cock-sure chat-up technique.

The plot is compelling, despite these quaint distractions of mannerism; twisting and wriggling towards the end. Nothing is quite "straight down the line" as Neff keeps saying to Phyllis Dietrichson.

Nugget: what makes this a classic? It's fun and a grand example of its genre. Part of its charm now is that it's dusty and old hat: they don't make 'em like this anymore.

Match Point (2005) - ickleReview (DVD)

On a second viewing Woody Allen's first London film is still enjoyable yet uneven. Jonathan Rhys Meyers acts some of his scenes astutely, creating an awkwardness, an unease, believably manipulating his girlfriend Chloe (Emily Mortimer)'s plans for the evening to get his own way or cringeworthily denying he'd been spotted in town by a friend of his brother-in-law's. In other scenes he is dreadfully wooden, delivering his lines plain wrong - no one speaks like that! The fault may be with Allen for choosing the wrong cut or simply not being able to get the right delivery from his actors.

Scarlett Johansson is breath-takingly sexy and voluptuous as the failing American actress Nola Rice. Allen really cast and wrote for her well. He has turned her into a fantasy woman and yet, within the same film, made her disgusting. It's brilliant the way Chris (Rhys Meyers)'s two women fluctuate in his affections.

Brian Cox and Penelope Wilton are perfect as parents-in-law.

Still worth seeing despite its flaws.

Nugget: spot the chicken picture on the wall when Chris fails to break up with Chloe.

See also my comment on Blogcritics.

Blow Out (1981) - ickleReview (video from TV)

Brian De Palma thriller starring John Travolta, who plays Jack Terry, a movie sound man who witnesses and records a car accident at night in which a wheel is shot and blown out (hence the title) and crashes off the road into the creek, killing the driver. Jack Terry dives in to save the other passenger. The driver turns out to be Governor McRyan, the presidential candidate; the other passenger, a girl called Sally, is a type of hooker/escort girl, whom the campaign team and police try to cover up to avoid embarrassing the governor's family. It turns out the "accident" was also caught on camera, so Jack Terry adds his sound to the film in an attempt to prove that it wasn't an accident, that the governor was murdered, to reveal the truth. He gets tangled up in a political conspiracy involving police corruption, endangering his own life and that of the girl, Sally, played by Nancy Allen.

This is a very stylish film, with nods to Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) in the comical slasher-movie opening sequence and Michael Powell's Peeping Tom (1960) with the killer's-eye-view photography. It is very much about the making of films themselves: piecing together the soundtrack with the visuals, synching them up. Jack Terry recreates the film of the accident by animating still magazine photographs of it - translating back across media. The shots of the tape running through the machine and the gradual interpretation of the soundtrack are reminiscent of Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation (1974).

Nugget: the last quarter of the movie gets a bit silly and implausible, slightly tainting the rest of the film. Overall, though, an enjoyable, clever romp, indebted to Antonioni's Blow-Up (1966).

Sunday 13 August 2006

A Scanner Darkly (2006) - ickleReview (cinema)

Richard Linklater movie using the same interpolated rotoscoping animation technique he developed for Waking Life (2001). Based on a Philip K. Dick novel, the story is set seven years into the future. Substance D is the superdrug that is crippling the American population: 20% are said to be addicted. Keanu Reeves plays Bob Arctor, who works as a narcotics agent for the Orange County police department. He has to spy on his group of drop-out friends, played by Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson, Winona Ryder and Rory Cochrane. To protect his identity, he wears a scramble suit, which conceals his image beneath an ever-flickering montage of over one million appearances. The plot has the confusion and verbiage of a film noir. The look of the film is really what justifies the means. CGI could not have achieved the unnerving opening sequence in which Freck (Cochrane) is infested by imaginary bugs in a Substance D-induced psychotic episode. At times the re-animation is sparse, revealing the real film underneath.

Nugget: I was probably too tired to enjoy this film as much as I could. It's not as mentally stimulating as Waking Life but it is a proper cinematic spectacle.

Wednesday 9 August 2006

Stevie Wonder's world tour stops off in China

Stevie Wonder is currently on a world tour and, last night, gave a concert in Beijing, China. At the end of the gig, he received a standing ovation, which lasted for a good few minutes. In the front row a man called out, "A jazz chord! A jazz chord!" So Stevie played a brilliant five-minute improvised jazz solo on the piano. When he was finished, he received another rapturous standing ovation, which lasted for over five minutes. Bunches of flowers were thrown onstage and a small girl ran on to present him with a teddy bear. The same man in the front row called out again, this time louder and more demanding: "No, no! I want a jazz chord! A jazz chord!" Slightly bewildered by the high demands of his Chinese audience, Stevie assumed his previous encore had not been jazzy and creative enough, so he sat down at the piano again and this time improvised a full ten-minute jazz solo to accompany his scat-singing. This sent the audience into orbit - wild with delight. They stood up on their seats and screamed with joy. It took them almost 15 minutes to calm down. By this time Stevie was exhausted with all his bowing and waving, and his cheeks ached from smiling so much. When the noise died down a little, that same man in the front row called out again: "No, no, no! You don't understand. I want you to play 'A Jazz Chord to Say I Love You'!"

Source: my new housemate, Dafydd Elis.

Tuesday 8 August 2006

Down the Mine

Deutsche Bank statues, TriesteTJS 1 Originally uploaded by domeheid.

These statues outside the Deutsche Bank in Trieste remind me of George Orwell's description of the "fillers" in Part I, Chapter II of The Road to Wigan Piers, an essay also known as "Down the Mine":

"But the fillers look and work as though they were made of iron. They really do look like iron - hammered iron statues - under the smooth coat of coal dust which clings to them from head to foot. It is only when you see miners down the mine and naked that you realise what splendid men they are."

Orwell was a great Communist propaganda writer, championing the worker. His enthusiasm and admiration is infectious. It makes me proud of my paternal uncles and grandfather who all worked down the pit in Dalmellington in Ayrshire. Had my dad been born ten years earlier, he would have been a miner, too.

Later in that same essay, I'm tickled by the bit about the mice down the mine: "It would be interesting to know how they got there in the first place; possibly by falling down the shaft - for they say a mouse can fall any distance uninjured, owing to its surface area being so large relative to its weight."

I wonder why Eric Arthur Blair chose the pseudonym "George Orwell". I thought of this as we drove over the River Orwell south of Ipswich on our way north towards our Suffolk holiday cottage a few weeks ago. Wikipedia confirms that he chose it because of his love for the river.

Thursday 3 August 2006