Thursday 27 December 2007

The Terminal (2004) - ickleReview (TV)

Tom Hanks plays a citizen from a former Soviet republic which suffers a military coup while he is in the air on his way to New York. The airport immigration authorities do not allow him to leave the terminal building because his country is no longer recognized. He is not allowed to fly home either so he ends up living in the international transit terminal where he finds a way to earn a living and becomes a celebrity amongst the airport staff. Catherine Zeta-Jones plays the air hostess love interest. Steven Spielberg directs.

According to IMDb:

Inspired by the story of Merhan Nasseri, an Iranian refugee. In 1988, he landed at Charles de Gaulle Airport near Paris after being denied entry into England because his passport and United Nations refugee certificate had been stolen. French authorities would not let him leave the airport. He remained in Terminal One, a stateless person with nowhere else to go. He has since been granted permission to either enter France or return to his own country. He instead chooses to continue to live in the terminal and tell his story to those who will listen. Reportedly, his mental health has deteriorated over the years. When given the opportunity to live in France, he refused because the documents did not name him as "Sir, Alfred", and he claims to have forgotten his native Persian language. Reportedly, he left the terminal in August 2006 to be hospitalized for an unspecified illness.

Nugget: a good film with a loveable performance by Tom Hanks, although you can pretty much learn everything you need to know about the film from the effective trailer.

Tuesday 25 December 2007

Office Space (1999) - ickleReview (DVD)

Funny movie set in an office with quirky characters and some great catchlines.

Nugget: I'm gunna go ahead and suggest you watch this.

Friday Night Lights (2004) - ickleReview (HD)

Superlative sports movie about a smalltown high school (American) football team from Odessa, Texas. The Permian Panthers are the focus of the whole town. Alumni and former players follow the team with gurt intensity, expecting them to have a perfect season and win the state championship. 20,000 watch their home games, played on Friday night under the floodlights. The head coach, Gary Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton), is paid a $60,000 salary - higher than the school principal. The quarterback Mike Winchell (Lucas Black) is not the star of the team. He learns his playbook with the help of his crazy mother. Football is his best chance of going to college. The team's hopes rest upon running-back Boobie Miles (Derek Luke), destined for greatness, a stellar college career, and the NFL. The full-back, Don Billingsley (Garrett Hedlund), whose main job on the team is to block for Boobie, is overshadowed by his intimidating and violent father, Charles (Tim McGraw), who has done nothing with his life since he was part of a state championship team and hates to see his son fumble the football.

The film is based upon the book by H. G. Bissinger, a journalist who stayed in Odessa for a year to experience the 1988 football season by living amongst the players and townsfolk. A remarkable story with brilliantly shot, exciting action sequences and (rare for a sports movie) a compelling off-the-field plot to match.

Nugget: it's worth going the extra yard to see this.

Saturday 8 December 2007

Sicko (2007) - ickleReview (HD)

Michael Moore documentary about the health care system in the USA. He compares the American system of private health insurance with the socialized health care (free at the point of need) in Canada, the UK, France, and Cuba. He meets a number of US citizens, including 9/11 volunteer rescue workers, who have been denied service by their health insurance companies or cannot afford to pay the hospital and doctors' bills. In the US, health care is not universal and is not free. The health insurance companies want to make profits, even if that means denying their clients access to treatments that could save their lives. It's no wonder such a system lets people down. This system was introduced by the Nixon administration in 1971 and Hillary Clinton failed to deliver the reforms that she promised when she was Bill's First Lady. And now she's running for president - on that record?

Moore has seemingly heeded criticism of his earlier films, particularly Fahrenheit 9/11, when he appeared too prominently (for some) in front of camera. In Sicko, he doesn't feature until 45 minutes in. His confrontational stunts are also less gimmicky, but I won't spoil any of them for you by revealing what they are. To have the greatest impact, it's best not to know too much about the content.

Nugget: certainly back up to the standard of Roger & Me and Bowling for Columbine.

Monday 26 November 2007

The King of Comedy (1983) - ickleReview (TV)

Martin Scorsese film about a delusional and talentless stand-up comedian, Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro), who pesters talk-show host Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis) into giving him a spot on his show. Pupkin's obsessive behaviour is unrewarded until he and fellow celebrity-nut, Masha (the hilarious Sandra Bernhard), kidnap Langford.

Scorsese takes advantage of the viewer's willingness to believe in the reality of the film to portray
Pupkin's delusional fantasies, but it is not always immediately obvious what is imagined and what "really" happened.

Nugget: an intriguing study of obsessive behaviour, which is both darkly comic and disturbingly close to the bone. I suspect most of us have the potential for such obsessive behaviour, but not all of us act upon it so readily.

Remember the Titans (2000) - ickleReview (DVD)

Jerry Bruckheimer's take on school desegregation, seen through the helmets of T. C. Williams High School American football team, the Titans, during the 1971 season. Coach Boone (Denzel Washington) is installed as the new (black) head coach, which angers the incumbent (white) Coach Yoast (Will Patton) and some of the white players and parents. The team bonds at their Gettysburg training camp and goes on to complete a perfect season, despite all the controversy and protest about black players and white players playing on the same team and attending the same school. Of course, there is some unexpected capital-A Adversity to deal with along the way.

Nugget: a jolly good rallying sports movie, ideal for bus journeys prior to Varsity rugby matches. (My Oxford University Colleges XV went on to beat Cambridge 38-7 after watching this.) Features Donald Faison (Chris Turk from Scrubs) as a running-back turned emergency linebacker.

Wednesday 21 November 2007

England 2 - 3 Croatia

Q: What's the difference between Lewis Hamilton and the England football team?
A: Lewis Hamilton will still have a McLaren in the morning.

(Source: BBC Radio Five Live)

Monday 12 November 2007

Carbon Commentary, issue 5

The fifth Carbon Commentary newsletter has hit the streets of the Information Superhighway. This week features articles on battery-powered cars, Hillary Clinton, public opinion surveys on climate change, the rebound effect, biochar, and the suspicion that Mexico's floods and California's forest fires can't be blamed entirely on global warming. Read the newsletter online here; or download the whole thing as a big, fat PDF.

Mexican floods

Tuesday 30 October 2007

Boston Red Sox win the World Series (and muggins here finally gets some sleep)

On Sunday night, the Boston Red Sox swept the Colorado Rockies to win the World Series for the second time in four seasons. I had a bit of an Eastern Standard Time week, staying up to watch five consecutive Bo' Sox victories on Sunday in Game 7 of the ALCS against the Cleveland Indians, on Wednesday and Thursday for Games 1 and 2 of the World Series at Fenway, and on Saturday and Sunday, for Games 3 and 4 in Denver. Highlights included Dice-K's wind-up wiggle on the mound, Pedroia's lead-off homer in Game 1 of the World Series, Papelbon throwing out Holliday at first, Dice-K's two-run single in Game 3 (not bad for an American League pitcher), Jacoby Ellsbury's consistent on-base percentage and Gonzalez speed, Lugo plucking that one out of the air at short-stop, Kielty's pinch-hit homer in the only ball he faced in the World Series, and Mike Lowell and Youk's consistent brilliance. Big Papi and Manny of course continued to do their thing. It's a joy to watch a team reach their potential. Francona and Theo Epstein deserve a lot of credit.

I was fascinated to learn of the Boston bullpen's rhythm section, which was first featured in Game 7 of the ALCS at Fenway. See the video below:

I noticed it throughout the following games, particularly when Boston was at bat. Have they been doing that all season?

Another great amusement was Papelbon's celebratory Riverdance. I know everyone in Boston thinks they're Irish, but this takes the solitary, unique, and, if I may so call it, recherché biscuit!

But fair play to the lad: he was geein' it laldy.

Monday 29 October 2007

Carbon Commentary, issue 4

I've finished preparing the new issue of Chris Goodall's Carbon Commentary Newsletter. Articles this week include some surprising news about the impact of food packaging on climate change, and the not-so-innocent plastic drinks bottles used by Innocent.

You can read the full newsletter here; or download the full-text PDF version here.

Wednesday 24 October 2007

What's the best way to react when a camera is pointing at you so that you look real/not like an idiot in the photograph?

To find some answers, go here. Good suggestions include:
  • Clench your butt cheeks.
  • Try not to look at the camera lens, but the eyes of the person behind the camera.
  • Hold your shoulders back, stick your chin out as far as you can, turn your face so it's at a 3/4 angle, tilt your chin down a little - hence, the "MySpace pose" or taking photos from above.
  • In a group portrait (especially an informal one) people have a tendency to lean in toward the person in the center. Don't do that.
  • Think of the most hilarious and/or satisfying thing you can imagine while the picture is being taken.
  • Imagine that the camera is a child you love and smile warmly and sharingly at that child, like you're whispering "You're so cute!"
  • Try looking away from the camera at something else, then imagine that an old friend has just called out your name from the general direction of the camera.
  • If you are standing, turn slightly and rest your weight on one foot. It may feel goofy, but you will look better.
  • If you are sitting, angle to one side or the other.
  • Lean slightly towards the camera. Leaning slightly towards the camera adds interest, dimension, and a natural look to a photo. Think of having a long neck like a gazelle, and tilt your chin down just a bit to avoid the appearance of a double chin and also to prevent the camera from getting a view right up your nostrils.

I came across that when I was retracing Jenny Diski's trodden path. She mentioned in her "Short Cuts" piece in the LRB and that was the first question I followed on Ask MetaFilter.

Losing is for wankers

Subscribers of the LRB can enjoy this myth-mulching article about the origins of rugby union. It was not a soccer match that William Web Ellis disrupted at Rugby School in 1823 when he caught a football and ran with it (the Football Association and its rules weren't formed until 1863); as Jeremy Harding reveals:

"the 'dribbling game', as football was known in the old days, was not played at Rugby. Webb Ellis should be remembered not for catching a ball - this was standard practice at the school - but for running with it when he ought to have retreated. Had he done so, the opposition would then have advanced to the point at which he'd made the catch and he'd have gone on to take a punt or offer the ball to a teammate for a place kick."

The article begins with an account of the pre-match preparations at the first Rugby World Cup final between France and New Zealand in 1987. (My title comes from the ever-gentlemanly Kiwis' battle cry: "Losing is for wankers and we're not wankers!")

Also amusing is the news that players in the south-west of France refer to footballers as "manchots - a broad translation would be 'amputees'", which proponents of the English 10-men kicking game might wish to bear in mind. (There are 15 of you and you are allowed to use your hands for more than dropping the ball on to your foot or stuffing the ball up your jumper.) That said, my jibes at the England team for not putting up a fight turned out to be premature.

Tuesday 16 October 2007

Inalienable truths, no. 1

Every photograph of me is a picture of me when I was younger.

(Source: adapted from an overheard conversation at dinner in Hertford College this evening.)

Monday 15 October 2007

Carbon Commentary, issues 2 and 3

The third edition of the Carbon Commentary Newsletter, which I proof-read, typeset, and upload for Chris Goodall, was published today. You can read it here:

"This fortnight's edition covers topics as diverse as Bjørn Lomborg's new book, BT's energy efficient data centres, and the fiercely argued issues of the Severn barrage and biofuels. I look at the government's main environmental proposals in the Pre-Budget review, saying that Air Passenger Duty will probably remain in its current form. In an article on the problems that the Advertising Standards Authority faces in holding back the tide of half-true green advertising, I confess to complaining about Ford advertising of its Flexi-Fuel cars, only to get hopelessly bogged down in science I barely understand."

You can read the second edition from 1 October here:

"It looks at questions as diverse as UK consumer behaviour, the prototype Ceres Power domestic CHP boiler and climate modification by geo-engineering."

Thursday 11 October 2007

Jeremiah was a bullfrog

Another YouTube gem. This Sky TV advert featuring a cool cartoon cat, along with the Phil Collins Dairy Milk gorilla, is my favourite advert on TV at the moment. (I'm sick of seeing the same old ads repeated during the Rugby World Cup on ITV.) The track is called "Joy to the World" by Three Dog Night.

While I was scouting around, I found TV Ad, which is a nifty way to name that choon.

Oh, go on then! Here's another. The track from the Saab 9-3 ad is "Through Your Eyes" by Nina Kinert:

Candy Mountain Charlie

This is a slow-burner, but if you watch it a few times, you will find it works its magic on you. It reminds me of those crappy cartoons and voices the makers of South Park produce. "We're on a bridge, Charlie!"

Wednesday 10 October 2007

Time and the Art of Living

I read a joyfully thought-provoking and optimistic essay by Roman Krznaric today on "Time and the Art of Living". I posted my comments about it here on Roman's blog, Outrospection. I hope it will change my attitude and behaviour towards time; I am already thinking differently about it. The essay mentions the Long Now Foundation, which I mentioned in my post on "Event Horizon" by Antony Gormley. It was a privilege to be able to speak to the author shortly after I'd read the essay. I have the urge to recommend it to lots of people, but I know we sometimes resent when other people tell us what we should be doing with our time and what we could be reading. So I'll just leave it here, slid slightly towards you, on a table in the middle of the Information Superhighway.

Monday 8 October 2007

Death Proof (2007) - ickleReview (DVD)

Quentin Tarantino film made in the style of 1970s "grindhouse" B-movies. In Austin, Texas a gang of girls drive to a bar, talking. At the bar, they talk some more. A tee-total stranger, Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell), appears to be following them. He drives a black stuntman's car that is supposedly death proof. He tests this out on the gang of girls. An insane stunt crash follows, complete with instant replays from multiple camera angles.

Fourteen months later, Stuntman Mike tracks another gang of girls in Lebanon, Tennessee. They talk and drive. One of them, Zoe Bell, playing herself (Uma Thurman's stunt double from Kill Bill), wants to test-drive a car. Stuntman Mike chases them. A crazy car chase sequence ensues.

Although the dialogue doesn't really go anywhere, it's still fun to watch. There's an odd anachronistic bent to this film with the 1970s soundtrack and 1970s fashions but a modern-day setting. The title sequence and production values imitate the grindhouse style: the film stock is deliberately damaged, reels appear to be missing or cut off too early, and the colour even goes AWOL for a few reels in the second half.

Tarantino drops in plenty of references to his other films (including Big Kahuna Burger from Pulp Fiction), as well as the titles of films that have influenced this one. It's a kind of film geek's filmography.

Death Proof is unapologetically violent in parts, but in a funny way. At times it's gratuitously misogynistic; but at other times it empowers its female characters.

Nugget: a queer cinematic joyride.

Wednesday 19 September 2007

RFU agree new shirt sponsorship

The England team will be wearing these new shirts when they run out against Samoa on Saturday in the Rugby World Cup. "Not without a fight," eh?

Need an explanation? This might help.

Tuesday 18 September 2007

Carbon Commentary: A critical appraisal of issues in the move to a low-carbon economy

The website I have been setting up, designing, tweaking, proof-reading, and customizing on behalf of Chris Goodall, the Green Party's Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Oxford West and Abingdon (and husband of my Hertford College tutor and current OED research project leader, Dr Charlotte Brewer), officially went live today. It's called Carbon Commentary.

Here is how Chris Goodall introduces the first email newsletter (for which the site is built):

"[Carbon Commentary] aims to provide an opinionated appraisal of the main themes in the halting moves towards a low-carbon world. It will analyse the main stories from the world of climate change during the previous fortnight, focusing on the implications for the UK. It is written to be read, and enjoyed, by a wide but scientifically literate audience."

You can read the newsletter online here, or download the PDF version here (printer-friendly with full-length articles).

Any comments, either here or there, are most welcome. Please spread the word to any interested parties.

Thursday 13 September 2007

Bike bastard

The Radcliffe Square bike bastard (for it is he) has returned. I noticed today that the bottle-holder had been stolen from my bike. It had to be unscrewed, so this thief must be really desperate. It might have happened in Jericho as I'm having to lock my bike outside at the moment because the scaffolding makes it too difficult to get past round the side to our garden shed. But I prefer to think it's the same person as before, since this isn't the only time some rascal has taken an interest in Walter (my biped's moniker, because it's a Raleigh). When I was an undergraduate, someone nicked all the spanners out of my corner bag (which I no longer use as a result). And then there was this one time I went to London and someone left me a malicious Post-It note on my saddle as a nice surprise.

Wednesday 12 September 2007

Monday 10 September 2007


A photograph of mine from Flickr of The Victoria Arms pub (above) has been used in an online guide to Oxford called Schmap.

Monday 3 September 2007

This Is England (2006) - ickleReview (DVD)

Tremendous British film set in the north-east of England in 1983, directed by Shane Meadows and based on his own childhood experiences. It will change the way you think about skinheads. Shaun (Thomas Turgoose)'s dad was killed in the Falklands War. He is bullied at school. Woody (Joseph Gilgun) and his gang of skinheads welcome him into their gang, but when Combo (Stephen Graham) is released from prison, the loyalites of the gang are split between Woody's compassionate, tolerant camaraderie and Combo's racist, National Front-inspired direct action against the local Asian immigrant population. Combo is opposed to the Falklands War yet wants to protect England from further immigration because it is supposedly taking jobs away from English-born people. Curiously, he does tolerate second generation immigrants so long as they say they are English.

My own prejudices didn't (until now) recognize that not all skinheads are violent racist. Woody's gang are merely a bunch of outsiders who welcome Shaun into their society, realizing he is friendless and in need of some role models. Even the bad skinhead, Combo, is sympathetically portrayed. His flaws and prejudices are accounted for, if not condoned, but even he has the humanity to do the right thing and take a friend to hospital after he has beaten him up in a jealous rage.

A fascinating, funny, and moving insight into the skinhead code of honour. When they have a problem, they are open and talk about it. They deserve more respect and understanding than they get. A minority of them are violent thugs with racist views, associating themselves with the National Front and giving all skinheads a bad name by their prominence.

Nugget: a superbly written and acted film. The 80s period detail is totally convincing. It really gives a sense of what life was like for skinheads living in the north-east of England in 1983. There is an outstanding performance by Turgoose, whose mother, Sharon, died in 2006, and to whom the film is dedicated. A very special film. Make the effort to see it.

Sunday 26 August 2007

Hallam Foe (2007) - ickleReview (cinema)

Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot (2000)) stars as the likeable creep, Hallam Foe, in this well made British film directed by David Mackenzie and set in Edinburgh. Hallam lives with his architect father (Ciarán Hinds) and step-mother (Claire Forlani) in a castle-like Scottish country house. His sister is leaving for a gap year in Australia and he should be going to college. His mother died in a drowning accident a few years ago. Since then, Hallam has developed some dysfunctional habits. He spies on people from his treehouse, painting his face and wearing a badger hat. He blames his step-mother for his mother's death, accusing his father of having an affair before she died.

After a confrontation with his step-mother over the content of his diaries, he goes to live in Edinburgh, getting a job as a kitchen porter in a large hotel, his primary motivation being that the HR manager, Kate (Sophia Myles), reminds him of his mother. He continues his voyeuristic habits by spying on Kate from the rooftops. Luckily for him, she likes creepy guys, so they soon have a relationship.

Despite the sinister themes, this is a charming black comedy. Bell is a likeable character and has matured well from his child acting days. His east-coast Scottish accent is convincing enough.

There are some nice touches in this film. We see Hallam practising picking locks in his treehouse before he later uses this skill to break in to a few places in Edinburgh. (Compare so many other movies whose characters magically know this skill already - presumably from seeing other movies.) The plot is more character driven, but still keeps you wondering what might happen next. When his parents catch up with him in Edinburgh, by which time he has been promoted to front-of-house porter at the hotel, there is a genuine sense of drama over what might happen next.

Nugget: a mature British film with some nice small performances, including Ewen Bremner (Spud from Trainspotting) as Hallam's fellow hotel concierge.

Friday 24 August 2007

The Frying Pan

MULTIPLE SPOILER WARNINGS! (Fried Green Tomatoes, Citizen Kane, Memento, Fight Club, The Usual Suspects, The Sixth Sense)

A Whalenism, usually applied to films, derived from the twist at the end of Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe (1991), in which the body of the murdered Frank Bennett is barbecued (in a frying pan) to conceal the evidence from the police investigation. As Ninny Threadgoode says, "That frying pan did more than fry chicken that night." The meat is actually served to the Georgia police detective Sheriff Curtis Smoote (played by Raynor Scheine) who is investigating the case. He thinks it tastes so good, in fact, that he unknowingly eats a number of portions of the very evidence he is seeking. On enquiring why it tastes so good, he is told "The secret's in the sauce."

Sipsey (Cicely Tyson) kills Frank Bennett (Nick Searcy) by hitting him over the head with a frying pan.

"The secret's in the sauce."

That ain't no ordinary barbecue...

Can you spot The Frying Pan?

"The Frying Pan" used more generally therefore refers to any secret or obscure plot twist or denouement that may not be obvious to the more dim-witted members of the movie audience (usually my father, Sandy), who "doesn't always see The Frying Pans". He famously didn't realize on first viewing that Frank Bennett was the meat being barbecued.

Other examples of Frying Pans might be the sled Rosebud, which acts as the MacGuffin in Citizen Kane (1941); the notion that Leonard might be deliberately deceiving himself and taking advantage of his own short-term memory loss in Memento (2000); the twist at the end of Fight Club (1999) that reveals the narrator as a schizophrenic, whose alter ego is Tyler Durden; who is Keyser Soze in The Usual Suspects (1995); that Bruce Willis is dead in The Sixth Sense (1999); und so weiter, und so weiter.

Tuesday 21 August 2007

Gay characters in Woody Allen films

At dinner tonight I was trying to list Woody Allen films that feature gay characters. This LiveJournal user says the only gay character he has ever seen is in Stardust Memories, which I haven't seen yet. One of the comments on that post adds that there's a flamer in Sleeper, which I can't recall at the moment, and of course there's Meryl Streep's lesbian couple in Manhattan. Are there any more?

Monday 20 August 2007

Lady Chatterley (2006) - ickleReview (cinema)

A French adaptation of the second version of D. H. Lawrence's novel, Lady Chatterley's Lover (John Thomas and Lady Jane). I was sceptical at first. How could it work doing an English story about class and language differences in a foreign language? For the first few minutes I maintained my doubts. Why was Lady Chatterley (Marina Hands) kissing her husband, Clifford (Hippolyte Girardot), once on each cheek to say goodbye as he went off to war? Isn't that how the French do it, not the English? How will they convey the class differences if not by RP accent versus broad regional dialect? How would "Th'art good cunt?" sound in French?

None of this matters and nothing was lost in translation. In fact, thinking about how it might have seemed in English, I believe doing it in French is the better way. It would sound overly quaint now to ham up the differences of speech and the formalities of social interaction between master and servant. What we're left with is the human and the physical drama. It felt at times like a heterosexual Brokeback Mountain (2005). Two lovers say very little to each other but communicate physically and with silence and looks. Their passion and sexual attraction for each other is elicit and dangerous for both of them should they get caught.

When Clifford, a wealthy factory owner, returns from the Great War, he is paralyzed from the waist down. His dutiful wife, Constance (Lady Chatterley), becomes his nurse, but this soon wears her down. A local widow, Mrs Bolton, comes to stay with them to nurse Clifford in her stead. Constance, lonely and loveless, wanders around the grounds of their country estate. One evening she is sent to give the gamekeeper, Parkin (Jean-Louis Coulloc'h), a message from the cook and sees him naked to the waist washing behind his hut in the woods. Something is triggered. In the following months, she gravitates around Parkin, finding a wonder in the natural scenery that is his domain. Their interactions are at first awkward and stiff. They are overly aware of their relative social status. Eventually their relationship develops into an affair that invigorates both their lives. But both of them know they are breaking social codes.

The director, Pascale Ferran, marshalls impeccable performances from his cast. Coulloc'h is rustic without being uncouth: the gamekeeper, Parkin, is an intensely private man but he is no idiot. Hands is wonderfully uninhibited. She is beautiful but has the skill to say so much with her body and face even when she has no lines to speak. There is often no need for dialogue. The sex scenes are erotic without being uncomfortably or unnecessarily graphic.

The film is shot in beautiful countryside throughout the seasons. The camera lingers to breathe in the air and conveys that awakening sense of wonder in the natural world that comes from being in love: noticing the beauty of the sunlight playing on the undersides of leaves, of an eagle circling above a field, fresh water trickling from a brook.

Ferran explains some of the reasons behind basing the film on the second version of the novel in a statement on the film's official site:

D.H. Lawrence wrote three versions of Lady Chatterley's Lover. The novel known by this title is the third version; the one Lawrence considered definitive and which he published at his own expense in March 1928, a few months before his death.

[...] between each version, Lawrence would put the manuscript aside for several months and go on to something else. When he came back to his project, he didn't work from the previous manuscript to modify it, but entirely rewrote a second version. And later, he rewrote the third version as well. Therefore, certain plot points and circumstances are common to all three versions, but entire passages are not strictly similar and no dialogue is identical. The characters themselves, the novel's four main characters - Lady Chatterley and her husband Clifford, the gamekeeper (whose name changes depending on the version) and Mrs. Bolton, Clifford's nurse - vary significantly from one version to another. As a result, we are dealing with three independent versions, each one coherent from the first page to the last.

[...The second version, published by Gallimard under the title Lady Chatterley et l'homme des bois, published in English as John Thomas and Lady Jane] is simpler, more direct in dealing with its subject, less tortured. The book is more focused on the relationship between Constance and Parkin, the gamekeeper, and the two characters themselves are quite different. For example, here Parkin is a simple man who logically should have been a miner, but who chose to be a gamekeeper in order to escape life in society.

In Lady Chatterley's Lover he is an ex-officer in the British Indian Army who has chosen to live as a hermit. His culture and origins make his relationship with Lady Chatterley less scandalous, however. In a way, intellectually, they are practically from the same world, which explains how they can discuss together what is happening to them.

In Lady Chatterley et l'homme des bois, they don't discuss things, they experience them.
(Source:, then follow links to About the Film/About.)

The film is somewhat episodic, but the inter-titles and occasional voice-overs ensure the changing of seasons and circumstances dovetail neatly.

Nugget: a surprisingly accomplished adaptation of a notorious novel. All of the pitfalls I had been expecting were avoided. In French with English subtitles.

Saturday 18 August 2007

How to create a favicon

I found a nifty wee tool for creating favicons: Dynamic Drive's FavIcon Generator. I recommend using a square image.

Favicon maker - Create a favicon from any image

Here are the favicons I've created so far today:

5 years old today!

This blog is five years old today, which probably makes it considerably more longevous than most other blogs, which crash and burn as their authors lose interest or create another one, although I'll have to admit I've only been posting with any sort of regularity (once every three days or so on average) since the summer 2004 when I finished my undergraduate degree at Oxford. It's not the first time I have marked the occasion: I did so in 2005. I thought I'd select one of my better or more significant posts from each year of its existence to give you an idea of how it started and how it has progressed over the years. You could do this for yourself by browsing through the archives.

2002: my first ever blog post (written in Munich five years ago to the day)
2003: some poor wee kid I saw at the football (written in Ayr)
2004: my first ickleReview (written in my temporary room in Hertford's Old Ab annexe during the long post-Finals summer)
2005: that letter I got from Pot Noodle (written in Oxford at KR3)
2006: that time I got a bit carried away with Beatles song titles (written at KR3)
2007: the day Broad Street was on fire (written at the Waltons in Ox)

The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) - ickleReview (cinema)

The third part of the Jason Bourne franchise. In part one, Matt Damon ran around, surprised at all his special agent skills, trying to figure out who he was. In part two, Matt Damon ran around, exploiting all his special agent skills, seeking revenge for the murder of his girlfriend in a CIA assassination attempt aimed at him. In part three, Matt Damon runs around, still exercising his special agent skills, and eventually finds out who he is and how he got there. We go through Moscow (diplomatically pronounced both Moss-kow by the Americans and Moss-co by the British), Turin, London, Madrid, Algiers, and New York.

The security correspondent of the Guardian newspaper, Simon Ross (Paddy Considine), writes a special report about who is Jason Bourne, having met an important insider source in Turin. As he arrives back at Heathrow - neither losing his luggage in baggage reclaim (he was travelling light) or encountering anti-aviation protestors - he speaks to his editor on his mobile and mentions the word "Blackbriar", which triggers a keyword alert in the CIA substation in London (based, by the looks of it, not all that far away from Blackfriars, so I wonder how often they got hyper when monitoring people's calls). That's the new name for Treadstone, the top secret black op that created agents like our man Bourne. The CIA track poor Ross down in an attempt to intercept his source. In the confusion, they think it's Bourne, who is trying to protect Ross and find out his source for himself so he can finally use a passport with his proper name on it. Jean Charles de Menezes replay ensues.

Cue enthralling chase to Madrid (scene of another recent terrorist attack), where he meets up again with Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), a fellow agent who had been on the baddies' side in the earlier films; Tangiers (appropriate location for rooftop chases and leaps through windows across narrow alleyways); and, finally, New York, where squabbling CIA barnets, Pamela Landy (Joan Allen) and Noah Vosen (David Strathairn - last seen in Good Night, and Good Luck. (2005)), are tracking Bourne's movements in a high-tech operations room where they apparently have control over every CCTV camera in the world, know everyone's phone number, and can even tell what you had for dinner a week last Tuesday (maybe not the last one). When agents are sent to storm an apartment in Madrid to where they have tracked Bourne, they hold portable video cameras next to their guns so that NYHQ and we can see what's happening - a nice touch given all the amateur footage that 24-hour news channels now screen whenever something big happens (I even heard the police were appealing for photos taken on mobile phones to help the investigation into that Hell's Angel shooting on the M40 last Sunday).

Fans of the previous two films will know what to expect, and director Paul Greengrass once more delivers. I'm not sure what the ultimatum of the title is, unless it signals the final (ultimate) part of the series, but room is left at the end for another installment, perhaps a prequel to find out more about how and why Bourne was made.

Nugget: continues to set the standard for breakneck action with a bit of brains, even if the final reveal of the MacGuffin that Bourne has been chasing falls a little flat. It's pleasing to find a trilogy that doesn't woos out.

Wednesday 15 August 2007

This Sporting Life (1963) - ickleReview (TV)

Richard Harris (The Guns of Navarone (1961)) stars as ex-coal miner Frank Machin in this black and white British sports movie based on the novel by David Storey and directed by Lindsay Anderson. Machin lodges with the widow, Mrs Margaret Hammond (Rachel Roberts), and her two young children. Her husband was killed in an industrial accident working for a company owned by Gerald Weaver (Alan Badel), the owner of the local rugby league club. The club's scout, Mr Johnson (William Hartnell), whom Machin confusingly calls "Dad", negotiates a trial for Machin, who impresses the club's management in his first match with his aggression and determination. He is signed as a professional rugby league player and soon becomes a star of the team.

Machin continues to lodge with Margaret Hammond, despite the fact that he could afford better with the money he is earning. She reacts coldly to his clumsy advances and still polishes the boots of her dead husband. Machin falls out of favour with Weaver because he has caught the attention of his wife.

Most of the plot is told in flashbacks from Machin's point of view. The rugby league action is at times overly choreographed, but at other times impressively realistic (many of the players were real-life professionals from Wakefield). One sequence is filmed in front of a large, spectacular crowd, filling a real stadium, which, had the film been made today, would have been pasted in with CGI.

Harris has an impressive bulk. He looms above the camera in Mrs Hammond's poky little house. He is a brute but despite his protective arrogance he does have a gentler, more appealing side to his character, such as when he takes Mrs Hammond and her kids out for a drive in his new Bentley and plays football with the children like a father. Roberts is brilliant in her role as the widow with the stiff upper lip.

Some of the intricate relationships between the characters take a while to figure out, but Anderson relies on the intelligence of his audience rather than patronizing them with telegraphs. It keeps one interested anyway. Although it's a sports movie, there is actually very little on-the-field action, which is probably just as well. It does look and feel a little dated in parts; one might even say primitive. It's supposed to be set in the north of England, but Harris's accent occasionally veers towards Irish (perhaps that's a deliberate affectation by the character) and some of the other characters have a tad too much RP, but perhaps that's just an indication of their social class rather than the actors' lack of range. Nowadays I fear we'd overdo it (cf. The Fully Monty, Brassed Off, und so weiter).

Nugget: a pleasing contrast to the typical Hollywood sports movie, where the plot arc is clichéd into banality and the only interesting thing is the sports action. In This Sporting Life the drama occurs off the field, not on it. Note, also, that this is rugby league not rugby union - a mistake that I fear is too often made by those who don't know the difference and just call it a rugby movie.

Sunday 12 August 2007

Rafa Benitez: the new Arsenal manager?

Why has Rafa Benitez recently been sighted in Islington; and what is that Islington trendy from the Private Eye cartoon It's Grim Up North London doing in the Liverpool technical area? He was even meditating during a penalty shoot-out last season, viz.

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe (1991) - ickleReview (DVD)

Watching Fried Green Tomatoes again has made me realize what a wonderful film it is. Even though I could remember the twist at the end, I could not remember all the twists in between. It's simply a wonderfully told and beautifully acted story. Well, two stories, actually.

Level one is set in present-day Alabama. Evelyn (Kathy Bates) goes with her husband, Ed (Gailard Sartain), to visit a sick elderly aunt in a nursery home. In the visitors' room she gets chatting to a chirpy octogenarian, Ninny (Jessica Tandy), who tells her stories about the people she used to know between the wars in Whistle Stop, an abandoned small town beside the railroad. Evelyn confides with Ninny about her marriage problems (Ed is more interested in watching sports on TV than spending quality time with her), her obesity (she eats a dozen candy bars a day), and her slide towards old age through the menopause. Ninny's stories and friendship give her a reason to live and the spirit to make her life better (hormones help as well).

Level two is the long flashbacks that Ninny narrates. They are about a local girl called Idgie Threadgoode (Mary Stuart Masterson) who was accused of the murder of Frank Bennett (Nick Searcy) from Georgia. We learn about Idgie's close relationship with her older brother, Buddy (Chris O'Donnell); her friendship with Ruth Jamison (Mary-Louise Parker) and the Whistle Stop Cafe they ran together; and the events surrounding the murder of Frank Bennett.

The two narratives are brilliantly intertwined and each episode in the story is skillfully developed so that it never seems like a filler for what comes next. I am reluctant to go into too much detail because knowing too much would spoil the craft of the story as it is told. The screenplay is based on the novel by Fannie Flagg and follows in the long and proud tradition of Southern American folk tales that has produced writers such as William Faulkner and Richard Ford.

What makes this film so special is its characters and the superb performances by the actors. There are four exceptional female roles for Tandy, Bates, Masterson and Parker, all of whom excel. There is a short but sweet role of O'Donnell as the kind and caring older brother. Each character is so carefully developed without any of the clumsy, clichéd slap-dash that often spoils Hollywood movies. Idgie is a tomboy, an outcast, but a surprising do-gooder, who treats the family's black servants, Big George and Sipsey (played with quiet dignity by Stan Shaw and Cicely Tyson), with a respect that riles the local KKK gang.

It is supremely moving, funny, enlightened, embracing so many themes: love, death, family, marriage, racism, crime, memory, storytelling - without treating any of them lightly. I was frequently in tears of joyful poignancy. It is a weepie, but thoroughly uplifting.

The director Jon Avnet (Jon Who? I know) has not made anything of note since, but this in itself is a gem. I cannot fault this film.

Nugget: the inspiration behind the Whalenism "The Frying Pan", which I explain in another post. (SPOILER WARNING!)

Tuesday 31 July 2007

The Simpsons Movie (2007) - ickleReview (cinema)

The Simpsons in widescreen with shadows and a movie plot arc. Sure, it's funny; but then so are the TV episodes. One of the few brands I don't mind being plastered everywhere. I don't want to say more because the jokes lose some of their impact if you've heard about them before you see the film. Try to avoid the teaser clips if you haven't had a taster already.

Nugget: if you sit through the credits you will be rewarded with a Springfield anthem to the tune of La Marseillaise and Maggie's first word.

Secretary (2002) - ickleReview (TV)

Maggie Gyllenhaal plays a self-harmer who becomes a submissive secretary James Spader's domineering lawyer boss. To most women his bullying and sexual conduct would be criminal harassment; but for her it replaces her habit of self-harm and gives her confidence.

Gyllenhaal is brilliant at all the nervous ticks of a young woman who has been through a lot of therapy. She is soft and fragile but has a wicked side.

This really could be a short film but it is inflated with reasonable success to feature length. In an interview for FilmFour, Gyllenhaal confesses that neither she nor the director Steven Shainberg knew what the ending would be when they undertook the project, and indeed that shows as part of the film's weakness, without really spoiling so much what has gone before.

Nugget: not the film I was expecting from the poster. A notably strong performance by Gyllenhaal.

Sunday 22 July 2007

Once Upon a Time in America (1984) - ickleReview (TV)

Sergio Leone epic gangster movie. These crooks are from the Jewish quarter of Brooklyn. Robert De Niro and James Woods star as two friends who build an organized crime empire. Told largely in flashback, De Niro's character "Noodles" returns in old age to settle old scores. A chance to reminisce.

As with Leone's Spaghetti Westerns, it ain't so much in the tale as in the telling. There is very little dialogue in the opening 20 minutes; meticulous set-ups and a symphony of sound effects. The dubbing is noticeable.

Nugget: a long film (229 minutes) that has its rewards but demands close attention. I remember seeing it in Germany as a kid in the late 80s when it was shown on TV in two parts on consecutive nights, like a mini-series.

Diner (1982) - ickleReview (TV)

Barry Levinson writes and directs a period study of the late 50s/early 60s. A group of friends meet in a diner. Some of them are getting married or are talking about it. They banter about women, betting, music, football, and their peculiar habits. Features some great old 50s cars, a classic soundtrack, some brilliant lines, and a warm rapport between the cast, which features Kevin Bacon, Mickey Rourke, Steve Guttenberg, and Daniel Stern (one of the burglars from Home Alone (1990)).

Nugget: a light-hearted study of early 60s anxieties. The best line in the film is "I'll hit you so hard, I'll kill your whole family."

The Departed (2006) - ickleReview (TV)

Martin Scorsese police drama set in Boston. Matt Damon plays a criminal placed in the Massachusetts State Police; Leonardo DiCraprio plays a Massachusetts State policeman placed undercover in the same organized crime gang headed by the wise-cracking Jack Nicholson. Which rat will be sniffed out first?

Reasonable viewing. Its tone is lightened by a number of good one-liners. Mark Wahlberg is amusing as a no-bull senior detective, the sidekick of Alec Baldwin.

Nugget: gets bloody.

Friday 6 July 2007

Shrek the Third (2007) - ickleReview (cinema)

The wait is ogre. But as with Shrek 2 (2004) the goods are slightly faulty. When the bar is set so high, it's difficult to raise it further and neither sequel reaches the heights of the original Shrek (2001). Shrek the Third isn't as disappointing as I found the second. It calms down the number of homages to other films, but its plot is a bit so-what. The King of Far Far Away (John Cleese) croaks it. The deathbed scene is brilliant with its repeated false alarms. King Harold wants Shrek to take over as king, but he doesn't want the responsibility, so he seeks out Artie (Justin Timberlake), who is next in line to the throne and a total high-school loser. Cue parodies of the teen movie. Meanwhile, Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) is desperate to snatch the crown and rallies support amongst all the other fairytale villains (Captain Hook, the Wicked Witches, the Headless Horseman, und so weiter).

The two main characters, Shrek (Mike Myers) and Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) are less interesting than in previous films. They have settled into their relationship together and have even reached the stage where we can expect the patter of tiny feet. They are also upstaged by the minor characters: Pinocchio (Cody Cameron), who has a hilariously circumlocutious way of avoiding lying to Prince Charming; the Gingerbread Man (Conrad Vernon), who punches well above his weight; the various princesses who act as Princess Fiona's ladies in waiting, including Snow White (Amy Poehler), Rapunzel (Maya Rudolph), the Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella (Amy Sedaris); and, the best kept secret, Eric Idle as Merlin, a magic teacher from Artie's Worcestershire high school who took early retirement because he went bonkers. He's a New Age, organically fuelled nutter and by far the funniest new character. These minor characters have overtaken the show. Donkey (Eddie Murphy) and Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) continue their successful double act.

Nugget: despite some gags of joy, the format is getting a little tired.

Thursday 5 July 2007

A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints (2006) - ickleReview (DVD)

A gritty but evocative memoir of adolescence in Astoria, Queens, NY, based on the eponymous book by the director Dito Montiel.

Nugget: think of a cross between Larry Clark's Kids (1995), Requiem for a Dream (2000), and Ken Loach's Sweet Sixteen (2002).

Read the full review on FilmExposed.

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

Wednesday 4 July 2007

People [He Has] Asked

Originally uploaded by 'stpiduko'.

I clickled across a set of photos on the Flickr blog called "People I Have Asked". It's a thing of beauty. Makes me want to take pictures of the people I know so that everyone can have a picture of themselves that looks this good (not that I can take pictures this good).

The Story of the Novel

I've been enjoying the Channel 4 programme The Story of the Novel through 4oD. It gives a pretty good introduction to the history of the English novel. Here are the major novels they have included in their canon (I've read the ones crossed out):

Episode 1: 18th-century origins
Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe (1719)
Samuel Richardson, Pamela (1740); Clarissa (1747-8)
Henry Fielding, Shamela (1741); Tom Jones (1749)
Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey (1798)

Episode 2: 19th century
Walter Scott, Ivanhoe (1819)
Charles Dickens, Great Expectations (1860-1)
Elizabeth Gaskell, Mary Barton (1848)
Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre (1847)
William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair (1847-8)
George Eliot, Middlemarch (1871)
Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady (1881)
George Gissing, New Grub Street (1891)
Thomas Hardy, Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891); Jude the Obscure (1895)

Sunday 1 July 2007

"Event Horizon" by Antony Gormley


There are 31 of these figures dotted around the rooftops within a 1.5km radius of the Hayward Gallery on London's South Bank (27 fibreglass and 4 cast iron). There are a few at street level as well - similar to those he placed on the beach oop north at Crosby (hight "Another Place"). He's also the dude who made the Angel of the North. It's fun trying to spot them all. I think they're beautiful. So peaceful and calm. They don't look as if they're going to jump. They're more like guardians watching over the city, facing you with their palms forward.

Update: Stuart Candy writes about Gormley's art in geological time on the stylish Long Now Foundation blog, which has a photo of Crosby Beach that could only be called a thing of beauty.


Monday 4 June 2007

9th Company (2005) - ickleReview (DVD)

A rare Russian war film about the last years of the 1979-89 Afghan war, following a group of young volunteer soldiers through basic training and deployment to the frontline. Their mission is to protect the Soviet supply lines in the mountains.

Nugget: an accomplished, if at times juvenile film, offering an intriguing foil to Hollywood's Vietnam epics, the equivalent American proxy conquest of the Cold War era.

Read the full review on FilmExposed.

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

Monday 21 May 2007


Stewart Home gave me one of his Necrocards at the Retelling Tales postgraduate conference at the University of Stirling this weekend. He was the final plenary speaker. I thought it was rather funny and have put it in my wallet next to my real Donor Card.

Update: for more on this, read Stuart Candy's post on his blog, the sceptical futuryst.

Thursday 17 May 2007

What a waste!

"From the Zero Waste point of view, a society in which a person drops a sandwich wrapper in the street would be as unthinkable as one where a person in the street pulled down their pants and shat."

This is from a boggling article in the London Review of Books by Andrew O'Hagan on "The Things We Throw Away", the story of what happens to our waste.

Monday 14 May 2007

Sunday 13 May 2007

Husbands and Wives (1992) - ickleReview (DVD)

Woody Allen film in which one married couple (Sydney Pollack and Judy Davis) tell their friends (Woody Allen and Mia Farrow) they're breaking up. A series of affairs follows, including Liam Neeson. There's neurosis and psycho therapy. Woody's character, married to Farrow, seduces one of his young female students (Juliette Lewis). Davis plays some brilliant hysterical scenes, a jealous wife to Pollack, who knocks up his socially inferior aerobics instructor (Lysette Anthony).

What distinguishes it is the hand-held style in which it is shot. Usually Allen's films are smooth and elegant. This one is edgy and makes you nervous just by watching it. Although a little obvious, it does convey the unsteady state of mind of the characters; it does feel a little rough and a few of the cuts are sloppy. Allen also reverts to semi-documentary mode as the characters narrate their own plot and become retrospective talking heads, like in When Harry Met Sally... (1989).

The funniest bits are the mild arguments between Allen and Farrow, whose relationship has cooled off, especially since their friends' break-up has made them more self-conscious. There's a brilliant anti-climax to a sex scene when Allen tells Farrow to go and put her diaphragm on.

Nugget: reliable entertainment, but not one of my all-time Woody favourites.

Tuesday 8 May 2007

Jimmy Carr jokes

Until last week, I wouldn't have said I liked Jimmy Carr (smarmy persona, presents 8 out of 10 Cats and innumerable top 50/top 100 countdown shows), although he can make me laugh sometimes, e.g.

"Throwing acid is some people's eyes."

"The male gypsy moth can smell the female gypsy moth up to seven miles away - and that fact also works if you remove the word moth."

(Thanks to Sarah for telling me.)

Friday 27 April 2007

Augusta Masters

Another splendid article in the Observer Sport Monthly - this one about Augusta National golf club. I had been mistaken in thinking it was a racist club, based on some prejudiced article I'd read in the build-up to a previous year's tournament, when there was some sort of controversy over women being excluded from club membership. David Owen argues convincingly that Augusta merely reflects the racial balance of the sport as a whole in the US. I didn't know that the club and the tournament struggled to establish themselves before to WWII. I agree that it is such a special tournament because it shuns the overtly commercial branding of some major sporting events and because it is played on the same course every year. I've always appreciated how proud it is of its history and how much that is a part of the tournament.

Moneyball: British vs. American sport

For a number of years I've been more interested by American sports (particularly the NFL and MLB) than I have been by football here in the UK. (I'm still fond of rugby and cricket for more sentimental reasons.) Never before have I seen the differences articulated so intelligently as in this article by David Runciman in the Observer Sport Monthly. It's so rare for a writer to understand both sporting cultures so sensibly, without applying the usual ignorant stereotypes. I can now see why football has never had much appeal to US armchair fans; although it has a huge level of participation at the grassroots. There's a wonderful contrariness about American elite sport, which Runciman calls "a workers' paradise compared to the red-in-tooth-and-claw competition of the English game." He continues, "What American sport - with its powerful unions, its salary caps, its drafts designed to favour the weakest teams, its collectivised bargaining - most closely resembles is European Union-style capitalism: a heavily regulated, bureaucratically policed, carefully nurtured cash cow."

(Thanks to Richard Matthews for the tip.)

Monday 16 April 2007

England's hopes rest on 3-year-old

England coach Steve McClaren today claimed England's hopes for Euro 2008 qualification are dependent on the fitness of Charlie Edwards.

"The lad's got talent," said McClaren. "It would be a disaster if his playgroup didn't release him for international duty. We hope they won't overplay him in the coming months."

Edwards, 3, is already pencilled in above Peter Crouch in the England squad to face Estonia in June.

Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger yesterday dismissed rumours that his club were looking to sign Edwards in the summer.

"He's too old," Wenger explained. "Plus, we don't want any more Englishers at our club. It's not good for the national team."

Manchester United, on the other hand, have already approached the youngster's parents about securing his services.

"As soon as the kid learns to write his own name, we'll sign him," a club spokesman declared this afternoon. "Our chief scout spotted him 18 months ago. We've been tracking his progress ever since. It was his dribbling skills that first caught our attention. He didn't even need a bib."

The Press Association reports that a bulk order for the club's shirts bearing the toddler's name has already been placed with the official kit manufacturer Nike in the Far East.

Pitch 'n' Putt with Beckett 'n' Joyce

Funny wee short film, playing on the stereotypes of Joyce and Beckett. Made me giggle. Thanks to Sig. Bibbio for the tip top tip. I love the line, "No not a Milky Way, you arse! A Topic!"

Friday 13 April 2007

The Mark of Cain (2007) - ickleReview (TV)

Feature-length drama about British soldiers in Iraq. This programme was postponed by a week because it was feared it might endanger the sailors and Marines captured and detained in Iran. They were eventually released before this programme was due to air, but the schedules had already been changed.

I found it disappointing. Like Jarhead (2005) it looked very good but didn't deliver. It portrays the institutionalized bullying and thuggery that I already believed exists within the Army. It was too one-sided. Not even the chaplain or the doctor could offer solace.

It's inspired by true events: of prisoner abuse and the difficult task of policing Basra after the official end to the war in Iraq in 2003.

The main performances by the two privates, Mark (Gerard Kearns) and Shane (Matthew McNulty), are convincing and natural. The way they are torn between loyalty to their regiment and moral courage is well delineated. However, their superiors are too stereotypically made out as the bad guys. I'm sure the Army can't be that bad throughout; but if it is, they should not be given the task of policing: their sense of justice is too warped.

The one striking moment is the speech Corporal Gant (Shaun Dooley) makes to the pall-bearers before the repatriation ceremony, carrying empty coffins because the remains of the two dead soldiers, killed by an RPG, are so charred.

Nugget: it did not live up to the hype. It was nasty, yes, but not as powerful as expected.

Monday 9 April 2007

Curt Schilling's 38 Pitches

It's pretty cool to have such a high-profile baseball player writing his own blog. 38 Pitches is from the man with the bloody sock, Boston Red Sox ace pitcher, Curt Schilling. He goes into great detail in his descriptions of the previous night's game. It's nice to think of him typing away on the red-eye flight home. I'm not sure about all the references to US troops in the Middle East. I guess it's a cultural difference. It's interesting to see how an elite sportsman thinks about the game.

Wednesday 4 April 2007

The Bourne Supremacy (2004) - ickleReview (TV)

Sequel to The Bourne Identity. A CIA operation goes wrong in Berlin. Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is implicated even though he was in Goa at the time. A Russian agent attempts to kill him. Bourne gets angry and goes after the CIA to find out why they won't leave him alone. He gets nightmares and headaches. Are they flashbacks or premonitions?

Brian Cox is a cynical old CIA suit close to retirement. He was involved with Bourne when he was being trained as a new breed of young agent. He doesn't like taking orders from a woman (Joan Allen).

With lots of hand-held camera work and a pounding soundtrack, the action is relentless. There's a brutal agent vs. agent fight in a Munich apartment, another whiplash car chase in Moscow, and a pleasing level of realism in the fact that Bourne hurts his leg and keeps the limp for the rest of the film.

Nugget: director Paul Greengrass raises the bar for secret agent action movies. Thanks to this franchise, Bond got better.

Sunday 1 April 2007

The Lives of Others (aka Das Leben der Anderen) (2006) - ickleReview (cinema)

Director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film with this tale about the Stasi state security in Eastern Germany in 1984. It is so perfectly composed, I don't want to spoil it for you by revealing too much about it.

Sebastian Koch plays the publicly loyal East German playwright, Georg Dreyman, whose beautiful girlfriend, Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck), plays his leading female stage roles. Two Stasi officers, Grubitz (Ulrich Tukur) and Wiesler (the wonderful Ulrich Mühe), suspect Dreyman of insurrection because of the company he keeps with other, more openly anti-state, artists such as the black-listed theatre director Jerska (Volkmar Kleinert). With the permission of the government minister Hempf (Thomas Thieme), who has hinted to Grubitz that he may be favoured for a promotion, the Stasi wiretap Dreyman's apartment in the hope of finding some evidence against him. Wiesler is put in charge of the monitoring operation.

This film is beautifully observed with impeccable production values. The are so many greys, browns and dull greens on the palette, and yet - thanks to doubleplusgood acting and ingenious scripting - von Donnersmarck finds a touching human warmth. Koch gives the writer's life a quiet dignity, a delicate balance between social obedience and free-spiritedness. The communist machinery of state is efficient, yet slowly crumbling from the inside. Mühe rides this divide.

The power games are delicious. The humour unexpected but not out of place. The tears drawn with cathartic poignancy. An unburnished gem of a film.

Nugget: in German with English subtitles. Worthy of your attention. It will reward you richly.

World Trade Center (2006) - ickleReview (DVD)

Oliver Stone usually makes films that are critical of American politics and institutions: Platoon (1986) and Born on the Fourth of July (1989) about Vietnam; Wall Street (1989) on the Reaganomic financial boom; JFK (1991) about the secret services and Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories; The Doors (1991), Natural Born Killers (1994) and Any Given Sunday (1999) about drugs and violence. His ethos has tended to be anti-establishment, often controversial. World Trade Center, despite the iconic title, badly misfires; although it wasn't aiming at his usual targets.

Stone is, above all else, a storyteller. In WTC he chooses a narrow focus, as he had done with Born on the Fourth of July, showing the events of 11 September 2001 from the point of view of two Port Authority Police Department officers, John McLoughlin (Nicolas Cage) and Will Jimeno (Michael Peña), and their families. Their unit was sent to evacuate Tower 1, but before they could leave ground level, it collapsed on top of them in the elevator shaft. The fact that the filmmakers collaborated with these men and their families kinda gives away the ending; but also limits the sort of film Stone could have made. It was arguably already in dubious taste to make a film within five years of the events; to make it critical would have been US box-office suicide. So instead he makes a Bruckheimer.

Only rarely and briefly did it grab me viscerally. The tower collapsing from the inside was compelling cinema (although I'm not sure about the slow-motion screaming and running - clichéd and battered by parody). True, it might have had a bigger impact in the cinema and without a cynical attitude. The McLoughlin family reacting with joy to news that John was still alive was also moving. However, there was too much patriotic All-American Christian hero bullshit going on, particularly from the retired Marine, who, with the blessing of his pastor, got himself a buzzcut, found his old uniform, and rushed himself down to Ground Zero to help with the recovery effort. I'm not knocking his bravery or selflessness. I am wondering why he then spent two years at war in Iraq, as the end credits tell us.

From a film with this kind of shiny production value, I wanted epic scope - a proper disaster movie with a wide perspective, improving upon Independence Day (1996) and Armageddon (1998). It might have worked better as a Kevin Macdonald-style docu-drama à la Touching the Void (2003) with talking heads and dramatic reconstructions. Too much of the movie was from the outside; I wanted more to experience what the survivors went through, not what their kitchen-sink wives and Yankee-capped kids were doing. After two hours, I wasn't exhausted enough, and wasn't given enough of the sense of ordeal these people went through.

And as for the lack of political comment about what happened after...I hope that's coming soon.

Nugget: I stayed away from this film when it was first released and would not have missed anything had I never seen it. Take the hint. Watch United 93 instead.

Saturday 31 March 2007

Friday 30 March 2007


Not the Animal Liberation Front, but the first episode (1986) of one of my favourite TV shows when I was growing up in Germany (the others were Knight Rider and Dougie Howser). ALF stands for "Alien Life Form". The German actor who dubbed the voice of Willie Tenner also did James Bond! I think I prefer the German voice for ALF. His "nul problemo" was better than "no problem". ALF's name - and I didn't know this before - is Gordon!

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Monday 26 March 2007

Limmy's World of Glasgow

Pure fuckin' magic, right. Get yoursel' listenin' tae this cunt: Limmy's World of Glasgow. John Paul is the best. He'll fuckin' chib ye, ya dafty. It's a Weegie retort to Devvo.