Tuesday 17 February 2009

Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008) - ickleReview (cinema)

Javier Bardem and Scarlett Johansson

This latest offering by Wooden Ally (I mean, of course, Woody Allen) is, as the title suggests, about two girls in Spain. Vicky (Rebecca Hall, daughter of Peter Hall) is an American student researching her master's thesis on Catalan identity. She is engaged to a rich, clubby New York businessman (Chris Messina) but has come without him to Barcelona for the summer with her friend, Cristina (Scarlett Johansson), who has just finished making an unsatisfactory 12-minute short film about love.

The two friends have opposing views about love and relationships. Vicky is loyal, conservative, conventional, and monogamous; while Cristina has had a string of passionate but doomed love affairs.

One evening at a party, and later in a restaurant, they meet Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem), a handsome painter who has been through a violent divorce with his wife, Maria Elena (Penélope Cruz). He propositions them, inviting them to spend the weekend with him in Oviedo. Vicky is reluctant, but Cristina is game. The way he propositions them is so blunt it is comic. He tries to seduce them, says he will make love to them, which of course he does.

When Vicky meets Juan Antonio's father, she begins to see a different side of him and eventually gives in. As they kiss for the first time, I noticed the two-shot was slightly out of focus on Vicky. Was this deliberate; or just an error that went unnoticed and was left in? If it was deliberate, what could it mean? That Vicky's old identity and values are dissolving.

The two girls look like opposites: Vicky is brunette; Cristina blonde; thin vs voluptuous; modest vs confident in her sexual allure. But at the beginning there is a slight confusion about their names. Juan Antonio has to make sure he's got them the right way round. I also assumed Scarlett Johansson would have the leading role (as she had in Match Point and Scoop) and so would be named first; not the case.

As ever, the moral of the story is serious, but the way it is played out is somewhat comic. Is the audience's laughter at inappropriate moments nervous, a kind of defence mechanism against the social mores Allen is probing? Does anyone actually behave like this?

Cristina ends up in a ménage à trois when Marie Elena, Juan Antonio's wife, returns to stay with him after a suicide attempt. Vicky begins to regret the conservative choice of marriage to her wooden but decent husband, always making plans about the house they might buy in New York, meeting business associates who aren't really friends. Juan Antonio offers a different sort of life of passion and excitement.

Nugget: an entertaining diversion but unlikely to live long in the memory.

Moneyball does basketball

Shane Battier of the Houston Rockets. Photo by Robert Seale. Source: New York Times.

Michael Lewis, author of Moneyball, has done it again: written another brilliant profile of an obscure athlete in a major American sport. This time it's Shane Battier of the Houston Rockets, who doesn't produce great conventional stats (points scored, rebounds, shots blocked, steals) but does dramatically hamper the effectiveness of the opposition's star players, whom he guards on defense. The article is full of fascinating insights like this:
Last season when the Rockets played the San Antonio Spurs Battier was assigned to guard their most dangerous scorer, Manu Ginóbili. Ginóbili comes off the bench, however, and his minutes are not in sync with the minutes of a starter like Battier. Battier privately went to Coach Rick Adelman and told him to bench him and bring him in when Ginóbili entered the game. "No one in the N.B.A. does that," Morey says. "No one says put me on the bench so I can guard their best scorer all the time."
Battier is one of those players who is undervalued. But the Houston Rockets, like the Oakland A's, seem to be one of those teams who want to embrace the dark arts of new statistics, which actually tell you more about a player's effectiveness than conventional measurements. You can read the full article here.

Friday 13 February 2009

Sexing a tap

My kitchen tap: is it male or female?

I want to buy an aerator for my kitchen tap to improve the flow of water and make it soft like all those lovely taps in Zurich, Switzerland (it also reduces water consumption by up to 60%), but I don't know which kind to buy: male or female. This website says:
For taps with a thread on the outside you need a Female Aerator. For taps with the thread on the inside you need a Male aerator.
Does this mean my tap is female? I wouldn't call that a thread and I don't think I could unscrew it.

Can you help?

Saturday 7 February 2009

Carbon Commentary, issue 12

Another issue of Carbon Commentary hit the tarmac of the Information Superhighway last week featuring a controversial proposal about the future of Formula 1, the impact of the d-word on environmental policy, falling sterling and the nuclear threat, a major woody about green jobs, carbon capture and storage, the Tory's energy policy, and the need for prudence in the government's approach to climate change. Y'all can read it in one downloadable PDF here.