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.