Sunday, 31 July 2011

Things Read

John Irving's The World According to Garp is a fictional biography of a peculiar writer and his loves, loss and occasional lunacy. I've never read any Irving before so was pleasantly surprised by the rich characters, sharp wit and bizarre twists and turns shoehorned into it's 600 pages. Irving swings the narrative in and out of the darkness with alacrity and peppered as it is with sex, death, writing, wrestling, short stories, assassination and imagination this dizzying read attempts a simulacrum of life itself and makes a surprisingly entertaining effort. Sure it drags a little in the last third and it's maybe a little dated 30+ years later but it's well worth reading.

John Wyndham's scifi has a unique flavour and The Chrysalids, despite being a novel for young adults, is one of his best. A post apocalyptic agrarian community is determined to destroy signs of genetic abnormality but a bunch of kids develop a hive mind telepathy and struggle to hide their presence. It's to Wyndham's credit that he weaves some interesting ideas throughout the fairly simplistic or maybe lean adventure and like most of his novels it's a little dark, a little melancholy, anyways I loved it. I guess it's been overlooked as he returned to the telepathic kids trope in the more famous Midwich Cuckoos - a shame as this is a much better read.

Navel Gazing Gold

The Day of the Locust is a sprawling epic about pre war Hollywood and the cruelties of life chasing the tinsel town dream. Homer Simpson, repressed accountant and Todd Hawking, ambitious production designer, find themselves falling for the same wannabe starlet/prostitute in this occasionally rambling film but as the darkness unfurls in their lives the film shows it's teeth and it culminates in one of the most crazed, psychotic finales I've ever seen. Karen Black, Burgess Meredith, Donald Sutherland & William Atherton put in sterling performances that counterpoint it's occasional lack of focus and have the necessary chops to handle the climax.

Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard is probably the classic critique of Hollywood life from the black and white era and rightly bagged a crapload of Oscars on release. Just in case you haven't seen it yet it's about a penniless screenwriter hack who rolls up into a faded, delusional, former movie queen's decrepit mansion and lands himself a plum job rewriting her lengthy film treatment. As you'd expect from Wilder the script crackles and the film is beautiful but it's the performances of Gloria Swanson and William Holden that dominate this rich, darkly cynical tale from the early age of Hollywood.Link

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Massaging Musically

Sought & Found

Footprints in Tanzania that push walking/gait/"feet" back 2 million years. PastHorizons

Enceladus pissing over Saturn. ScienceDaily

Britain's earliest rock art? BBCLink
Method for tapping ambient electromagnetic energy. ScienceDaily

Tiny new moon for Pluto. Reddit

Water with a mass of 100 trillion times
the size of our own planet's. Impactlab

700 tunnels under Bavaria. Reddit

Volcanic cluster on the dark side of the Moon. Physorg

Earth's first asteroid buddy.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Lupine Lore & Simian Shenanigans

Albert Finney, Gregory Hines and a young James Olmos star in Wolfen a supernatural thriller from the pen of Whitley Strieber. When one of the city's finest and his Mrs are found chewed to pieces in a public park a pair of detectives are tasked with the investigation and a bunch of Native American cult members come under suspicion. It does reek of the 80's with some early-predator style POV camera work and some ropey dialogue but it's not all bad with a modicum of tension and a couple of greasy kills along the way. It's not a classic by any means but it's smarter than expected and quite enjoyable nonsense: a little 80's curiosity, think of Q Winged Serpent but with paws.

George A Romero's Monkey Shines, about a paraplegic terrorised by his Capuchin chum, doesn't even manage the modest success of Wolfen as hampered as it is by it's unintentional hilarity. So some dude gets mowed down during his morning jog and ends up in a chair, paralysed from the neck down. His scientist mate gets one of his lab monkeys trained as a helper and it's not long before the protagonist and his hirsute hombre develop a "special" bond but things turn ugly and eventually homicidal. The acting is alright and a fairly decent cast and Romero does manage a few moments of dread but it's so ridiculous, so steeped in silliness that it never achieves it's ambitions and I spent the last 20 min laughing my face off. If you want some non-zombie Romero I stick with Martin.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Swords & Sniggers

Ironclad is a gory period-battler with Paul Giamatti, Brian Cox and James Purefoy. Idiot King John reneges on his Magna Carta deal and with the help of some Danish mercenaries begins to reinstate his dominion unfortunately for him a handful of fighters have secured Rochester castle and a bloody siege ensues. Despite it's modest budget it's a decent effort with a suitably grimy past, decent acting and lashings of headsplitting and grisly dismemberment. I'm sure history buffs will quibble over the details but I liked it. With our bloody history I'd be surprised if we dont see similar productions following on.

Horrible Bosses is a star stuffed Hollywood comedy about three chums suffering from the all too common problem of having dickish superiors and whilst drunk they decide murder is the best solution. Bateman provides his usual dry wit alongside Aniston, Spacey & Sutherland as well as a tonne of cameos and there's plenty of gags to spread around, but best of all, director Seth Gordon (King of Kong) avoids the bloat and unctuousness of recent Apatow pictures and keeps things snappy and it's all the better for it. A surprisingly amusing farce.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Good old Ken, ye ken

Ken Russell's The Devils is a gleefully blasphemous film about the strange happenings in the Loudun nunnery of the 17th century based on the book by Aldous Huxley. When perfidious Cardinal Richelieu decides to destroy the fortified town of Loudon a rebel priest Grandier, played with gusto by Ollie Reed, stands in his path. After tupping some local lass he provokes the ire of the loony, hunchback boss-nun played by Vanessa Redgrave, she calls in the Inquisitors and the holy shit really hits the fan. Russell doesn't pull his punches with lavish sets, giddy costumery, mass nudity and bonkers dream/vision sequences and he even manages to procure decent performances from everyone despite the madness. All in all I quite enjoyed rewatching it, it's a finely made, committed film that's more tragic than I remembered and it's a terrible shame it's been overshadowed by the inevitable the sex/blasphemy controversy.

The Lair of the White Worm
was clearly made on a much lower budget than The Devils and even Ken's inventiveness couldn't patch up the cracks that scupper this foray into English folklore. An archaeologist uncovers a peculiar skull on a small farm dig near the fabled lair of the Lambton Worm and when the reclusive, predatory Lady Marsh arrives back the town begins to lose a few more residents. Starring Hugh Grant, Peter Capaldi and a delicious Amanda Donohue this could have been something decent but the ropey script and rubbishy acting constantly deflate any mystery or tension and it limps along to a ridiculous bagpipe based finale.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Monday, 18 July 2011

Hack Happy

Haven't been doing much politics of late but since I've spent the last couple of weeks pissing myself about Murdoch's plight I thought I should pull the finger out.

So Rupe & Little Jimmy face the Select Committee tomorrow and it looks like Yates and Stephenson will be facing a IPCC investigation into corruption.

The Murdoch yesmen at the WSJ have published a halfwitted defence against their Master's amusing apocalypse. They're probably getting angsty about the impending US version. Spitzer is certainly keen to add his voice.

Baffling that the so called Chipping Norton set would include the boorish, fucktard Jeremy Clarkson. Anyways he's been spraffing off on the Xmas party where Camo was hanging with his News Corp overlords. DigitalSpy

Curious side story in the Guardian about a bag containing a laptop and notes found in a bin by the Police near Brooks' house but is apparently definitely NOT hers.

The NYT has a nice little tidbit about Murdoch giving Dacre the heads up.

The Libdems become ever more bold in their Murdoch bashing - they're desperate to claw back some support so I'm not surprised they're having fun. LC

Dangerous Minds have a nice clip of Dennis Potter sticking the boot into Rupe.

Lulzsec have been having fun - redirecting The Sun to a fake Murdoch dead story they've placed on The Times.

Apart from Hague there's been few Tories prepared to defend Cameron's choice of chums - Guido and others are taking note.

Tragically Sean Hoare the first whistleblower in the NOTW/Murdoch implosion has been found dead in his flat, Police say not suspicious but I doubt that'll stop the tinfoil hattery that's bound to ensue.

Wacky Wicked West

Kirk Douglas stars as Paris Pittman, an outlaw caught after an audacious heist and sentenced to a desert prison in Mankiewicz's There Was a Crooked Man. Accompanying Kirk during his stay are the excellent Burgess Meredith and Warren Oates and it's not long before a new, reformist warden turns up (played by Henry Fonda) with big dreams of rehabilitating the reprobates. It's quite jolly, with plenty of wit and one liners but it's a fairly dark, amoral tale as Pittman's ruthlessness supersedes all even once he's manufactured a jailbreak.

The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean is a John Huston Western from the early 70's and, like Crooked Man, it's a strange blend of comedy and merciless violence. Paul Newman stars as the titular Judge who after being thrown out of an isolated brothel returns to kill everyone taking over the local town in the process. He sets himself up as a, rather capricious dispenser of Justice and proceeds to kill any evil-doers who venture into town, divvying up the booty and improving the town over the years. It's a bit of an epic with a rich cast including Oates, McDowell, Perkins, Gardner, Keach and Beatty and despite it's length it a highly enjoyable watch about a singular individual.

Mile Post

Celestial Scenery


Dumbed Dick & Argy Agro

Poor PKD, he must be spinning in his orbital satellite as Hollywood mauls yet another adaptation, The Adjustment Bureau is a rom/scifi/adventure thingy with all the crazy invention flattened out leaving a bland anodyne shell behind. Matt Damon stars as a rising politico who bumps into the luminous Emily Blunt in the gents and is cock blocked by the dark forces of the titular organisation who mind wipe, cajole and redirect everyone according to some Master's plan. It's watchable I suppose and doesn't drag it's feet but it's an awkward mishmash of romcom and scifi which never really works and without Blunt I'd have just switched off. Another example of Hollywood ho-hum.

Like The Lives of Others, The Secret In Their Eyes depicts life under a totalitarian regime and the murky antics of life under a police state. This Argentinian thriller boasts some fine performances and a decent script as a retired cop decides to write a novel about one of his unsolved murder cases which continues to haunt him. Split between flashbacks to the original case and his present efforts to uncover the truth a complex, tragic tale unfurls towards a genuinely shocking ending. A brilliant mystery thriller that will no doubt get remade sooner or later.


Sunday, 17 July 2011

Spooks and Spells

Night of the Eagle is a black and white chiller based on a novel by Fritz Leiber. An anthropology Professor discovers his wife has been practising black magic for years and soon after destroying her fetishes his life begins to fall apart and he starts to question his faith in logic & reason. There's some stylish cinematography and fine performances especially by Peter Wyngarde as the doubting Prof and it's a surprisingly effective watch given it's age.

Insidious is directed by James Wan, creator of the Saw franchise. Eschewing torture porn this time around Wan has crafted a retro chiller in the Poltergeist/Amityville vein as a family become increasingly haunted after their young son falls into a coma and nerves shredded they turn to a local psychic and her bumbling ghostbusting assistants for help. The acting is decent enough but it's gleefully unoriginal but somehow despite the cheesy imagery, old school sfx and papery characters Wan squeezes plenty of atmosphere and a fair few scares out of the proceedings. Much better than I'd expected.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Monday, 11 July 2011

Redneckery & Black 'n' Blue Ballet

Tucker & Dale vs Evil is a surprisingly amusing horror comedy starring the tubby one from Reaper and the blonde one from Firefly/Dollhouse. Essentially a farcical comedy of misunderstandings, the film inverts the college kids in the woods meet Hillbillies trope and sees two bumbling but charming rednecks subjected to an sustained onslaught from a bunch of dickish city types. There's plenty of slapstick death and laughs along the way and it's a highly enjoyable, if childish, 90mins.

Aronofsky's Black Swan, despite his protestations, is essentially a homage/rip off of Satoshi Kon's Perfect Blue, that's no bad thing though and it's a stylish, deleterious psychological thriller in it's own right. Portman stars as a highly strung ballerina who wangles the lead in her company's new production of Swan Lake but the stress seems to take a hold and as her debut approaches her grip on reality seems to be slipping. It could have done with a lighter touch but the performances are all excellent and it's denouement nicely realised. It's good and Aronofsky's always an interesting film maker but I, as a Kon fan, couldn't stop comparing it to the other more nuanced film.

Film Trash

Poster Genius Drew Sturzan has come out of retirement and produced the ad above for the famed Alamo Drafthouse.

Spike Lee looks to remake Oldboy.

Walter Hill is helming an adaptation of graphic novel Bullet in the Head starring Sly & Christian Slater. Slashfilm

Super nerdy analysis of the symbolism in Pandorum. Via Screened.

Crummy cameo heading for the next Nolan Batman film. DenofGeek.

More news of the upcoming Dredd movie. A bunch of other Superhero news here.

Io9 have a nice summation of known knowns re John Carter of Mars.

Schwarzenegger might be take the lead in Kim Ji-Woon's english language debut The Last Stand - apparently a cross between High Noon & Die Hard.

Dario Argento is working on Dracula 3D flick with Rutger Hauer. Sounds good but looks pretty cheap. From Bloody Disgusting

Batman: Year One trailer courtesy of Den of Geek.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Double Solemnity

Bill Murray stars a WW1 veteran who searches for meaning in The Razor's Edge - a melodrama based on the novel by W. Somerset Maugham. After the war Murray's character, Larry, leaves his upper class chums to their cosseted fates and takes a series of manual jobs while travelling the world, reading incessantly and looking for something more substantial than black tie parties and privilege. With a cast including Denholm Elliot, Theresa Russell, James Keach and the excellent Peter Vaughan there's no shortage of talent for Murray to spark off and his amiable charm and wit soften what's eventually quite a tragic tale. According to WikiP, Murray only appeared in Ghostbusters on the condition that this film was made, and despite it's critical mauling I am glad he made the deal, it's an interesting melancholy film that shows Murray has long hankered for something more than Caddyshack buffoonery.

Ace in the Hole is a biting satire on gutter journalism starring Kirk Douglas and directed by the brilliant Billy Wilder. A washed up New York hack takes a job on a local rag, The Albuquerque News, and dreams of clawing his way back to the top when a scoop lands in his lap, some treasure hunter has become trapped in cave system and Kirk's unscrupulous journo, Tatum, is quick to see the possibilities and begins to exploit the situation with no concern for the consequences. A towering central performance by Douglas, a tight, merciless script and some canny cinematography give weight to the emotional punch this film delivers and it's hard to believe this flopped on it's original release in '51.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

< Alliterative Allusion Absent >

Green Lantern stars Ryan Reynolds as the titular superhero in 90 mins of Hollywood big screen, 3D FX-laden guff. There's nothing wrong with it per se but the convoluted origin story involving a reckless test pilot joining an alien police force with magic rings granted by some immortal midgets vs a recently escaped Evil Cloud thingy requires a hefty amount of explanation so it felt that 3/4's of the film is introductions and build up leaving little time for anything substantial like say a plot or much characterisation. Ho hum - given Marvel's recent hit rate DC should really have tried harder with this one. Reynolds and Robbins are competent enough I suppose but it's only Mark Strong's performance as Sinestro that's notable in what is quintessentially just big screen bubble gum. Anyone else think Reynolds' eyes are freakishly close together?

Liam Neeson continues to mine his Euro thriller seam with Unknown a Hitchcockian tale about identity theft and assorted shenanigans. Neeson plays a biochemist visiting a Berlin conference but after waking up in hospital post accident it appears someone else is living his life and even his young wife doesn't seem to recognise him. Big Liam, after 10mins of doubt, is convinced he's not just lost his marbles and pounds around the city digging into the mystery. There's plenty of action and some decent performances from a talented cast and it's all-in-all quite entertaining but sadly lacks the viscera of Taken and hasn't enough imagination in the script/plot department to make up for it. I think it's safe to say the old Bourne/XIII/amnesia trope has definitely over stayed it's welcome.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Sciencey Smorgasbord

Stunning new HD pics from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. Reddit.

Jellyfish continue their sit-in protest against nuclear energy at Torness.

Tibetan singing bowls can make water levitate, well kind of, via the power of resonance. NewSci

Psychiatry's addiction to drugs
is finally getting the mainstream critique it deserves. Mindhacks.

Static electricity gets a rethink in this interesting Wired article.

Sea Urchins apparently can "see" with their whole body. Physorg.

Simulated Martian eclipse vid made using snaps from the pancam on Rover. Reddit.

Bad Astronomy have a neat explanation for this peculiar atmospheric anomaly

Retro Rollicks

J J Abrams churns out a reasonably entertaining Speilberg homage in Super 8, a kind of Goonies vs Cloverfield mashup. A bunch of kids growing up in small town 80's 'murika witness a train crash while making a low budget zombie flick and they find themselves in the centre of a conspiracy to keep the existence of an alien hidden from the world. There's plenty of charm and the young cast do a decent job as they bounce around town dodging the police and the army and Abrams keeps things ticking along with plenty of action and SFX but there's plenty of cheese and corn and the whole thing was just a little too wholesome for my taste.

X Men - First Class
, though just as cheesy as Super 8, does a decent job in breathing some excitement into the increasingly turgid Marvel superhero franchise. This prequel is set in the Sixties when Xavier and Magneto become chums and begin the search for other mutes in an effort to combat a dastardly villain, Shaw, played by Kev Bacon. There's a ton of origin sub plots that flesh out the action and with two excellent performance from McAvoy & Fassbender that lends the cartoony proceedings a surprising amount of depth. Plus there's Rose Byrne in her scanties.

Seventies Prosers

The Sea, The Sea is a beautifully written novel by Iris Murdoch about a retired theatre luminary who buys a strange house on the coast for some peace and quiet but finds it hard to extricate himself from his past. The novel's main character Charles Arrowby is a self aggrandising boor with peculiar culinary taste yet somehow after the turmoil and tribulations which befall him during his coastal retreat his humanity blossoms and he sees life anew. The book bursts with odd bod side characters, comedy, tragedy, farce, social critique and a smattering of eastern mysticism and it's Murdoch's skill as a writer that sews these disparate pieces together into a strangely uplifting narrative. I've already bought a handful of Murdoch's other novels so I hope this wasn't a one off.

J G Ballard's High Rise is one of his most potent barbs into modern living with a narrative split between three residents of an ultra modern, near future, mega apartment complex that initially seems idyllic but soon descends into a dinner jacketed barbarism. The tailored convenience of the over designed building and it's stuffing with privileged middle/upper class professionals soon squeezes the narrow minds into madness and Ballard's skill in describing the moral decay of the architect, TV journalist and medical lecturer far surpasses his later Cocaine Nights and Super Cannes. Be warned though as usual with Ballard's work this is bleak and unrepentantly so. Apparently Nic Roeg tried to adapt it back in the 70's but it's finally heading to the big screen helmed by the excellent Vincenzo Natali.

Saturday, 2 July 2011