Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Lord Luton's Right Load of Cossacks

Taras Bulba , based on the novel by Nikolai Gogol, is hailed as one of the greatest Russian stories of all time. Bulba is an old Cossack with two sons, he sends them off to be educated in Kiev and through the length of the story we see the destiny of the two sons change. One falls in love with a Polish girl and betrays his father and fellow Cossacks and while the other grows up to be a good Cossack. Now you know the basics lets chat about the films. Yep, plural. First is the 1962 version starring Yul Bryner as Bulba and ....wait for it.....Tony Curtis as the 'bad son'. As you can imagine there is lots of action and the whole thing rattles along at a fair old pace with the usual sped up horse scenes but you end up feeling sorry for old Bulba. A bit of a Hollywood epic with a difference, not on the massive scale that you sometimes expect from Hollywood but they certainly capture the feel of the wild but proud Cossacks.

The second version is a Russian made epic from 2009. They seem to be pumping out these sort of things now (see 1612 for example). As you would expect this version seems far more historically accurate and the battle scenes are far more gory and realistic but unfortunately what it gains in realism it loses in pace and fun. Where the original had legs and the ability carry the audience along the Russian version gets bogged down in preaching and speeches. Those evil Poles! etc etc. If your looking for a rip roaring adventure go for the 1962 version. If you want a historically accurate version with cheap synth soundtrack......

Before we abandon Cossacks altogether I'm going to come over all Sister Wendy and show you a painting that I love.
The reason I'm so taken by this picture is not so much the image itself but the story behind it. Basically the Cossacks were being such a pain in the arse that the Ottoman Sultan, Turkish Sultan Mehmed IV, wrote to them,

"As the Sultan; son of Muhammad; brother of the Sun and Moon; grandson and viceroy of God; ruler of the kingdoms of Macedonia, Babylon, Jerusalem, Upper and Lower Egypt; emperor of emperors; sovereign of sovereigns; extraordinary knight, never defeated; steadfast guardian of the tomb of Jesus Christ; trustee chosen by God himself; the hope and comfort of Muslims; confounder and great defender of Christians—I command you, the Zaporozhian Cossacks, to submit to me voluntarily and without any resistance, and to desist from troubling me with your attacks."

The painting shows a group of cossacks writing the reply and having a great deal of fun composing the following

Zaporozhian Cossacks to the Turkish Sultan (4?)!

Thou art a Turkish imp, the damned Devil's brother and friend, and a secretary to Lucifer himself. What the devil kind of knight art thou that cannot slay a hedgehog with your naked arse? The devil shits, and your army eats. Thou son of a bitch wilt not ever make subjects of Christian sons; we have no fear of your army, by land and by sea we will battle with thee, fuck thy mother. Thou art the Babylonian scullion, Macedonian wheelwright, brewer of Jerusalem, goat-fucker of Alexandria, swineherd of Greater and Lesser Egypt, Armenian pig, Podolian villain, catamite of Tartary, hangman of Kamyanets, and fool of all the world and underworld, a fool before our God, a grandson of the Serpent, and the crick in our dick. Pig's snout, mare's arse, slaughterhouse cur, unchristened brow, screw thine own mother!

So the Zaporozhians declare, you lowlife. Thou wilt not even be herding Christian pigs. Now we shall conclude, for we don't know the date and don't have a calendar; the moon's in the sky, the year in the book, the day's the same over here as it is over there; for this kiss our arse!

Hands up who thought trolling started with the Internet!

Tuesday, 30 August 2011


A Tale of Two Remakes

It's hard to imagine but somehow the remake of Conan makes the Milius/Arnie version seem Oscar worthy. Sure the remake has more and better staged swordplay, bloodletting and Ron Perlman in it's favour but it just can't match the atmosphere of the original and it all plays out like a fey EA video game. As you'd expect the plot doesn't amount to much; Conan is orphaned & wanders the planet until picking up the scent of his nemesis and his freaky witch daughter while they hunt for some pure blood maiden. Maybe with a lead actor who didn't look empty & lost and a bit more conviction to string things out for more than it's 100mins this might have been worth a look. As it stands I wouldn't waste your time.

However Fright Night, another 80's remake, shows how it's done and manages to surpass the original with gusto. Funnier, bloodier and better acted than the McDowell version this shows what can be done with a little common sense. Former nerd Charley and his girlfriend end up in some bother when the new neighbour turns out to be cleaning the town of pesky kids with liberal fang use and they enlist the help of a jaded, faux vampire hunter. With Toni Collette, David Tenant and Colin Farrell all turning in excellent performances and the script rattling along with plenty of laughs this hokey 80's number has been regurgitated as a funny, richly dark, highly enjoyable addition to the canon of vampire flicks.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Shiny Dim Bulbs

Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig star in genre mash up Cowboys and Aliens a big budget little brain Hollywood travaganza. Wanted criminal awakes in the desert with an natty wrist band but no recent memories, on wandering into a nearby town the truculent hero finds himself defending it with his newly acquired bangle & soon begins a cliche riven quest against the alien visitors. It's not terrible just depressingly formulaic and despite the insertion of some "wit" and the aforementioned actor heavyweights it never shakes off it's paper thin plotting and reliance on gaudy special effects. It gave me the distinct impression of being built around the title, probably pitched at some meeting of awful, facile minds. Sigh.

Scifi is big business in Japan so it's quite surprising they've produced so few live action space operas. Space Battleship Yamato aims to rectify this with a tale of a ruined Earth besieged by a powerful alien race, only one ship survives and begins a epic journey in search of some alien tech that might help turn the tables. Based on a cherished anime series the film is stuffed with predictably cartoonish characters and a shed load of CGI and SFX to wash it all down with. I dunno somehow the I'm more willing to accept Japanese cheese than Amurican maybe it's their innocence or naivete that makes it palatable but anyways it's a decent enough watch and certainly didn't depress me as much as Cowboys and A's . Maybe if I'd seen the original anime I might have enjoyed it more. It's big glossy fun I guess but boy is it dumb.

Musik fur Ihre Mutter

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Paper Profundities

Modern suburban living and it's concomitant anxieties are revealed in the darkly comic, rather brilliant White Noise by Don Delillo. Jack Gladney, his wife Babette and their extended brood of children live a peaceful life off campus but their media soaked lives come under increasing strain when the town is threatened by a toxic cloud. Delillo is a superb writer and his stunning interweaving of threads like our relationship with technologies, foolish niche academia and the psychological encroachment of the media effortlessly fill page after page of this skillful satire that's as funny as it is tragic. If I was to find fault it'd be that despite being richly drawn individuals the main characters became a little tiresome in the final third and maybe the pacing of key events could have been improved. Still this is one fine book and given it was written 26 years ago a startlingly prescient one. I can't wait to read one of Delillo's more contemporary novels. Thanks to Sir J for the tip.

Crashing a plane into water near the town of Shepperton a young man transcends and transforms reality in J G Ballard's The Unlimited Dream Company. Quite unlike his early scifi dystopias or his later near-future prophecies Ballard's fantastical, William Blake inspired novel is a exhilarating fantastical narrative about nature and religion, er I guess. After the fatal crash our protagonist is imbued with great power and with the local populace under his sway they become witness and participants in his ascent into a strange, brooding Demigod. Unfettered and plunged into the mystic Ballard's writing has never been better as he creates dizzying scapes of preternatural fecundity, orgiastic metamorphoses and their flipside of fetid decay and insistent absorption. It's a hard novel to explain so you're just better off getting yourself a copy and diving right in.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Gid Vids

Animated Sheet of So What, via Dangerous Minds

Amazing Sand art via Neatorama

392 seconds of August fails, via reddit

Tunnel & Lab Rats

The Navigator is a stylish scifi about a bunch of manic miners from a plague besieged medieval English community who start tunnelling at the behest of a child seer. The kid's vision drives them forward towards a Cathedral in need of a spire a deed which will provide succour to their village however they resurface in 20th C. New Zealand where they're split between perceiving it as hell or as heaven. Though the script and acting are perfunctory there is some lovely ideas here and the whole shebang is executed with such style that it's hard not to be swept along with their revelatory journey.

Daniel Keyes' Flowers for Algernon is one of those rare scifi novels that transcends its genre to reveal poignant and profound human truths. The film Charly not so much, sure it's a reasonable facsimile of the book but it's swinging 60's style critically punctures it's potency at key stages and it limps towards it's tragic conclusion. If you haven't read it the plot follows a affable man with learning difficulties who becomes a test subject for an intelligence increasing procedure that's wildly successful but ultimately bittersweet. The acting is decent enough however the director's obsession with "new" techniques like slo-mo and split screen become tiresome and culminates with an unforgettable wig-out/biker scene in the final third that had me rolling about with laughter. That disastrous sequence is somewhat offset by the still pertinent and pointed address Charly gives to the assembled scientific symposium but it can't undo the damage to the heart of the peice. Book first, film only for the curious and lovers of 60's cinema.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Mind Matters

Amusing graph showing the fruitiness of musical sounds. Mindhacks

MDMA as a treatment for cancer? or maybe just PTSD?

The psychology of McDonalds.

Research demonstrates the mechanism behind the link between DNA damage and psychological stress. Reddit.

Area of the brain used in prediction has been located. New Scientist.

Singletons of both genders statistically have a shorter lifespan. Impactlab

Prison research has revealed the influence of decision fatigue. NYT

Article about the mythmaking around human pheromone products. Mindhacks.

Fancy some Charlie? scene from Modern Times of Chaplin ingesting cocaine.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Perusings from a Poplar Paradise

Brando and Liz Taylor star in the peculiar melodrama Reflections in a Golden Eye from 1967. Set on an equestrian military base, Brando plays a tormented, closeted Major married to a promiscuous, gossipy Taylor who carries out her affairs with little discretion, throw in a genitally mutilated neighbour and her uber-camp houseboy and a troubled voyeur/stable hand and a heady, gothic brew foments. Stylishly shot in a sticky golden hue the lives and loves of the characters drift inexorably towards tragedy and though sharply scripted and well crafted by John Huston without the skills of the actors involved this would have descended into a sweaty bedroom farce. Still it's definitely worth a watch if only for it's audacious examination of sexual proclivities.

Luc Besson's Angel-A follows the fortunes of a small time hood who, on the verge of suicide, gains the assistance of a mysterious 6ft blonde with a penchant for cigarettes. Beautifully shot in black and white this urban fantasy has bags of easy charm and wit as we witness the lead's relationship blossom during their Parisian wanderings. It might not appeal to fans of Fifth Element or Nikita but this light romantic fable has some unexpected depths.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Troublesome Tulpa Twosome

The Dark Half sees horror kings Romero & King collaborate on the occasionally corny tale of an author terrorised by his pseudonym who's escaped into reality. Timothy Hutton is excellent in the dual role as thoughtful husband Thad and as the increasingly demented and murderous George and he's ably supported by Ami Madigan and Michael Rooker in the ensuing nonsense. It has some nice touches like the sparrow psychopomps and Romero squeezes some tension from proceedings but there's no genuine horror and even the string of slaughterings are bodged and it shambles along towards it's predictable conclusion. Maybe I wasn't paying attention enough at the start but shouldn't Thad's doppelganger have been the protagonist from the novels George "wrote" rather than his alter-author himself? or were those novels supposedly autobiographical?

Oliver Stone's debut feature Seizure will probably never legitimately be released again and after watching it and kinda enjoying it I think the director's efforts in wiping it from history are a bit harsh. A horror writer is plagued by nightmares depicting his family and friends deaths at the hand of nebulous characters from his own novels and one weekend these forms take flesh and the killing begins. Now it does suffer from a low budget, am-dram acting and terrible cinematography but somehow it's still quite entertaining with the tulpa trio of knifey midget/ /black mute/sexy brunette providing most of the unintentional laughs and the refreshing cowardice and egotism of the main character bringing the bitters. Dunno it's certainly not the worst film I've seen but unless, like me, you enjoy the odd so-bad-it's-good genre I wouldn't recommend it.

Sumptuous Space Scenery

Amazing arrow on the surface of Titan, apparently caused by complex weather patterns and not aliens. Physorg.
Japanese star gazers capture the still hot "ember" of a Supernova for the first time. DailyGalaxy.
Sweet annular planetary nebula expelled once a dead Sun turns White Dwarf. APOD

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Bored Burt & Manic Mason

Big Burt Lancaster stars in The Midnight Man, a mid 70's thriller about an ex-con, ex-cop turned night watchman on release. A series of crimes on and off campus twitch the nose of the old investigator and he's soon digging into the lives of students, Senators, hillbillies and religious pervs. This isn't a classic by any means, with the acting, script and cinematography all of a TV movie quality and it's only saving grace being the surprisingly convoluted case. For the curious and/or bored only.

Bigger Than Life is a tight little James Mason flick; a tale of suburban drug abuse with Mason's school teacher getting strung out on new wonder drug Cortisone after collapsing from exhaustion. Mason's descent into megalomania and it's effect on his family life dominates proceedings and it's a tour de force performance from Mason who slowly starts to chew the scenery with much vigor. Beautifully shot and directed by Nicholas Ray my only frustration lies with the films intentions: either it's a simple but well made cautionary tale or the simple plot hides an subtext that's somewhat ambiguous, is it a critique of educational conformity or a proponent, is it a diatribe against the suffocating American dream or a reaction to the sudden, slightly insane proliferation of drug treatments in 50/60's ? Your guess is as good as mine.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Fruitless Farces

Larry David's single directorial effort Sour Grapes is filled with the expected social awkwardness and wisecracking but it lacks the charm of Seinfeld or the extreme idiocy of Curb. Two cousins get into a dispute over some Vegas winnings and the feud's consequences spiral quickly out of control spreading from their personal to working lives. It's not terrible but neither of the two leads are particularly effective at delivering their lines and they continually suck the momentum from proceedings.

Mixed Nuts is a Steve Martin vehicle directed by Nora Ephron. Martin stars as a helpline worker besieged by a bevy of bampots during the festive period while trying to hide the fact the business is being shut down. It stumbles along in a mildly amusing fashion but relies heavily on it's roster of cameos for most of the laughs with Madeline Khan, a very young Sandler, Rob Reiner, Anthony LaPaglia, a cross dressing Schreiber and shouty Juliette Lewis all making appearances. If I had to choose between these two failed comedies I think I'd go for the Grapes.

Funk '69

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Arch Art Array

Rather peculiar Alchemical illustrations from a German tome published in 1617.
Amusing reworkings of famous art in a retro video game stylee for the upcoming Iam8bit exhibition. Aled Knows Best
Andy Denzler's unusual "paused" paintings mimicking the qualities of VHS on hold. All links via the ever excellent Neatorama.

Fraught Foreigners

The first adaptation of Graham Greene's The Quiet American features Michael Redgrave as a pompous English journalist lounging about Saigon whose life is shaken once his beautiful mistress catches the eye of a young, idealistic Yank. Set during the heady prewar era of Indochina this is an excellent sweaty thriller steeped in conspiracies and cuckolding with the two love rivals representing the differing political positions of the day. The acting, script and Mankiewicz's direction are of an effortlessly high standard and it's prophetic examination of imperialistic foreign policy is just as apt today as then. According to Wikip Greene himself wasn't too keen for this version as it excised much of the novel's antiwar emphasis and though it is does reek of propaganda it's still a highly enjoyable watch.

Kill The Irishman is a true crime thriller about some street thug turned union boss who finds himself in a murderous dispute with an ineffectual Mafia boss. There's a nicely homespun feel to the violence and the constraints of it's low budget actually assist in the realism but ultimately the main character and the actor portraying him fail to elicit anything like the charm or character as say Liotta's performance Henry in Goodfellas and the whole thing never really comes to much. A solid but unremarkable effort.

Midsummer Murders

The Oxford Murders is a pretty basic thriller about a pair of mathematicians drawn into a serial killer's web after some corpses turn up with Pythagorean clues. There is so little here I began to think it was deliberately slight but regardless of the author's intentions the characters are paper thin, the plot simplistic and the denouement is way too obvious. I dunno, it's reasonably well written and there's a few interesting maths bits but with all in all it's as disposable and about as entertaining as a microwaveable meal.

On the other hand Ira Levin's A Kiss Before Dying is a masterful, noirish thriller about a college student desperate to marry into money and a life of privilege who turns homicidal after discovering his college girlfriend is pregnant and her rich father is on the verge of disowning her. The narrative is mostly told from the warped perspective of the killer as he carefully schemes his way to riches and Levin's skill shines throughout with well drawn characters and an exhilarating pacing of events culminating in a bitter, vengeful finale. Interestingly Levin also penned The Stepford Wives, Deathtrap and Rosemary's Baby so expect more reviews of his novels soon.

Thursday, 11 August 2011


The Public Eye is a 40's thriller about a crime photographer who'll stop at nothing to get a good pic and is loosely based on the career of Weegee. Joe Pesci puts in a sterling performance as the jittery and driven protagonist who life revolves round the lens but things gets complicated after falling for a dame who hires him on commission. It's nicely shot in washed out colours, ticks along with a decent script, well acted and it all simmers along towards a finale that's simultaneously the zenith and nadir of the snapper's career. A great film, just a shame it's not available on R2.

Delirious, directed by Tom DiCilio, stars Steve Buscemi as a jaded, bitter paparazzo skulking about celeb haunts waiting for the big money shot. He befriends a young homeless kid played by Michael Pitt and their curious relationship becomes strained once others take note of the kids showbiz potential. It's a pretty decent watch, not side splitting but still a funny satirical parable on celebrity culture & worship, if there had been a bit more papping and a little less romance I'd have probably enjoyed it even more.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Empirical Efforts

Opportunity finally reaches the ancient Endeavour crater, New Scientist.

Evidence found in meteorites of some nucleobases of DNA. DGalaxy

Interesting article about the varying national flavours of psychological theories. Mindhacks

Research into viruses that infect the parasites that infect us. Via BoingBoing

Rare find in Peru of beetles, spiders, lice, flies and some seeds preserved for 23 million years in amber. Physorg
Plant scoffs down a Great Tit. BBC

Labfreaks bioengineers create artificial, fully functional anal sphincters. Reddit.

Physics super-team think our universe and the essential direction of Time spawned from a previous one that existed pre big bang. DailyG.

Bottom feeding Hagfish have permeable skin which can absorb nutrients directly from the corpses they burrow into. Reddit.

Weird gravity defying effect with a copper tube and supermagnet. ScienceDaily

August Audio

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Mechanical Men

Michael Winner directs Charlie Bronson in The Mechanic, probably the campest hit man thriller I've ever seen. Bronson plays Bishop an aging assassin who takes the young handsome son of his friend/victim, played by Jan under his wing and starts to train in him the arts of discreet murdering. It's all built around the weird ambiguous master/student relationship between the two men with seemingly loving glances passing between the two throughout and I guess the florid 70's styling doesn't exactly help. Regardless it's still a good, surprisingly intelligent, film with some genuine tension as well as the requisite action and it's got a sharp, bitter finale. Ha, according to WikiP the original director & screenwriter had intended the two men to be romantically involved but they couldn't get the project greenlit with the gayness left in. Anyways watch it for yourself below.

Fast forward 39 years and The Mechanic get it's inevitable Hollywood facelift. Jason Statham kicks/punches/gurns his way through this glossy reworking and despite the contemporary trend for dumbing down there's still a glimmer of the originals intelligence. Statham plays mentor to Ben Foster's novice with Sutherland Snr cameoing and all put in admirable efforts given the slim, mediocre script but worst of all though the film eschews the ponderous pacing of the original and cranks up the action and violent death so much so it's soon an unremarkable, forgettable slice of action pie. Still if you just want some shiny fighty distraction it will suffice and Statham has become one of the more dependable leads for this sort of thing and hey at least he's not a wrestler/cage fighter or Vinnie Jones.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Odd Outcomes

Crazy Swede tries his hand at stove based radioactive experiments. BBC

Swiss woman doesn't have fingerprints. Reddit

While an Indian kid is born with 34 finger & toes. DerrenBrown

Freaky video of the Lazarus sign exhibited post mortem and explanation from Mindhacks

Pentagon is selling off failed weapon system prototypes on ebay - some guy bought some lightning gun bits and bobs

Indonesians are lying on train tracks believing the low voltage is some sort of panacea.

Curious half male half female butterfly. Guardian

Lady Moose apparently provoke males to fight by some suggestive moaning. BBC

Some amusingly saucy optical illusions courtesy of forgetomori & Richard Wiseman.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Incoming Audio

Tinseltown Sauerkraut

Peckinpah's Cross of Iron follows a pack of Nazi soldiers, lead into the bloody mess of WW2's Russian Front, by charismatic James Coburn. The barbarity of the mission and a long running conflict with his idiotic, cowardly, ranking officer gradually dissolve Marvin's fervour for the cause and produce disturbing. There's no shortage of noisy, bloody action drenched in Peckinpah's inimitable style (slow mo's and all) but it was Coburn's surprising effective turn as Sgt Steiner holding his own against an excellent, sweaty, rat like performance by Maximilian Schell and a cool, aristocratic James Mason. An action classic with some brains as well as balls.

Brando, Clift & Dean Martin star as 3 men soldiering for their countries during WW2 whose stories slowly intertwine in The Young Lions. Clift stars as an eager Jewish conscript who is befriended by a reluctant draftee, lounge singer Martin. The latter is on board to provide some lightness from Clift's difficult training/harrowing war experiences and Brando's privileged, pompous Nazi officer who slowly realises he's fighting a war he doesn't believe in. It's not bad, well directed and shot but it's a touch flabby and the characters are weak, half hearted stereotypes with predictable, propagandish journeys and it's only the competence of the acting that gives it any mojo. Clift & Martin do well with what they're given but Schell & Brando's Nazis thankfully colour - Brando in particular put's in a strange, semi-comedic, proto-Kurtz performance that's a good enough reason to watch on it's own.

For a Fistful of Yen

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Wasted Talent

The Ravagers is a ropey post apocalyptic film starring Richard Harris. Rag tag scavengers are all that's left of America after a long past cataclysm and Harris & his lady fall foul of a local gang who pursue him on his adventures as he stumbles across enclaves and enemies alike. Mostly a bag of warm pish, there's little to interest here but a glimpse or two of a good idea squandered by a titchy budget, rubbish script and little imagination. Presumably Harris did this for drinking money. Try Boy and his Dog if you're looking for similar but better.

The Wake Wood is a low budget Irish horror that's part Wicker Man part Pet Cemetery but fails to muster anything like those effort's atmosphere. A young couple move to the country and find themselves tempted by the cult leader's offer to resurrect their dead kid in a grisly yet humdrum pagan ritual which predictably goes awry. The acting talents of Timothy Spall and Aidan Gillen are wasted in this poorly scripted, unimaginative chiller that isn't helped by the shitty cinematography with it's underwhelming DV production values. If it's weirdo community life you want The Stepford Wives is a better example.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Cartoonish Capering

Sucker Punch exemplifies Zack Snyder's good and bad qualities as a film maker; sure the film's nicely shot and there's a handful of decent, stylised action sequences but the film is crushingly adolescent, devoid of acting ability and seriously vapid. A young woman is wrongly sent to the loony bin where she lives out her remaining pre lobotomy days in a fantastical haze of escape attempts, epic battles and a little girl bonding. I dunno, if you're just after some glossy violence set to pounding music then this will suffice, anything more and I'd look elsewhere.

Captain America is the lynch pin to the forthcoming Avengers movie so the stakes were high for this origin story film and it's not a bad effort just a bit unremarkable. The action is framed by the Captain's contemporary defrosting while the bulk of the movie flashes back to WW2 and the start to his career and his eventual showdown with the Red Skull. Unthinking patriotism personified the Captain has never been a superhero I've been very fond of but this action stuffed feature grasps for the same semi-serious tone as Iron Man thankfully cutting someway through the flag waving hooey.

Spurious Spectacles

Eye wateringly funny gallery of poor efforts in Taxidermy.

AnimalsBeingDicks - endless gifs of nonsense.

Cern data makes pretty pictures. All links via Reddit.