Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Brain Slices n Stuff

Amazing new technique in reconstructing what we see from information garnered from fMRI scans. PopSci

Research shows Chimps might be naturally altruistic after all. ScienceDaily.

Olfaction appears a more potent sense than previously thought. NewScientist.

12th Century nun Hildegard of Bingen described female orgasms as a sense of heat in the brain. Mindhacks.

The problem of free will haunted my undergrad years so nervously here's an article about philosophers and neuroscientists getting knee deep in the debate. Nature.

Dutch scientists investigate our strange tendency to make false confessions. Economist.

Cyborg rat struts about with a brand new artificial cerebellum. NewScientist.

Our understanding of our perception of harmony gets a boost from a mathematical model. Sciencemag.

The active, constructive component of perception is nicely outlined in an article on Forgetomori.

Piscine & Ovine Distractions

It took a while but once The Raw Shark Texts got it's teeth into me the last 250 pages went down in one big gulp. Written by Steven Hall this is a clever, tricksy novel about a man who wakes with a disassociatve memory disorder and finds himself guided by letters, posted by his previous self that give him glimmers of his tragic past and more importantly help defend himself against the conceptual shark that's hunting him. Though the amnesiac-adrift trope has become a little tired over the past decade Hall's linguistic shenanigans add enough juice to keep things interesting and even the slightly gimmicky games with the typeface and font help plunge the reader into the double reality/delusion of the protagonist.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
is one of Philip K Dick's finer novels which was subsequently adapted into Blade Runner. Rick Deckard hunts runaway androids who return to a devasted, mostly empty Earth and receives the oppurtunity to pursue 6 examples of the latest, most realistic models. The book packs in much more invention & plot than the somewhat truncated film with social control, mood altering tech, TV gurus of course the eponymous artificial pets that all help build a truly Dickish miasma of paranoia, metaphysics and melancholia.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011


Crooks and/or Hooks

Stephen Frears debut film Gumshoe is a Chandler homage starring a fresh-ish faced Albert Finney as a club comic who puts an ad in the local papers and sets himself up a private detective with only a passion for film and books to back him up. As you'd imagine his first case is quite tasty and he winds up neck deep in intrigue involving arms, apartheid, heroin and of course dames. It's pretty entertaining with a quick wit, great cast and a razor sharp script but it lacks a little danger as Finney starts digging around. Filmed in 71 there's plenty of retro Liverpool & London on show as well as a fair bit of racism which I guess was to be expected, still, this is a funny, overlooked British thriller that's worth catching.

Following the success of Euro horrors Dead Snow and Troll Hunter the Dutch are chipping in with Saint, a grisly spin on their particular Yuletide mythos. A weary detective tries to convince colleagues about the imminent arrival of Saint Nicholas heralded by the Xmas conjunction with a full moon, unheeded the murderous character turns up with his troupe of evil elves and they start hacking up the inhabitants of Amsterdam. There's plenty of gore, dismemberment and skewering but all the blood can't hide a poor script, 2D characters and a feeble, cheesy denoument. Wouldn't bother.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Sounds Like

Paper Crafters

25 famous author's last words including HG Wells' above. Reddit.

Virtual monkeys have almost completed the works of Shakespeare. BBC

Some crazy Elder Scrolls nut has printed & bound all the in-game books into one single volume. Reddit.

Book thief and bipolar sufferer returns stolen fictions. Guardian

Stunning illustrations from an 1896 tome. BibliO

Conan Doyle's first novel is finally published. BBC

The Smithsonian has nice list of lost books. Reddit.

Beautiful book sculptures found in Edinburgh libraries. BoingBoing

Nice, via DailyWhat.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

British Binds

While Kraken isn't China Mieville's most accomplished novel, this urban fantasy still romps along, piling on the strange and manages to kick seven shades out of Neil Gaiman's efforts. A giant preserved squid is stolen from the British Museum and Billy, a curator, is plunged into an alternative London filled with mancers, mages, assassins, cults and occult sects most of whom want a little chat about his now absent specimen. Though dark, Mieville keeps things chipper with plenty of humour and cultural references and it's one of his more commercial - mainstream even - offerings but like PKD his imagination is irrepressible and page after page is stuffed with ideas and invention.

On Chesil Beach is an oh-so intimate examination of the wedding night of a young, virginal couple in the early 1960's. McEwan's novella ably demonstrates his skills, with a clean, clear narrative style unfurling the duo's tensions and characters in the seaside hotel they've chosen for the physical consummation of their love. She, a scared, neurotic classical musician with father issues and he, a intellectual voyeur, devoid of maternal love but ramrod with expectations - this was bound to be a, er, bumpy ride. Only 160 pages or so but still a magnificent read that's as funny as it is touching.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Family, Friends & Foes

The Green Man is a 3 part BBC adaptation of a Kingsley Amis novel and stars Albert Finney as a rakish hotelier who's in charge of a luxurious but haunted country gastro-retreat. Unfortunately Finney's constant womanising and alcoholism have strained his family relations to breaking point and after his father dies our protagonists ghostly visions take on a more corporal form. Originally written in the 60's and adapted in the 90's it's showing it's age a bit but Finney's excellent performance and the curious brew of comedy, sex and horror keep things nicely afloat as he drifts between revulsion and temptation by the offer made by an evil cleric. All in all good
(not so clean) supernatural fun - must root around for the book.

Wild Palms will, no doubt, always be overshadowed by Twin Peaks, which preceded it by a year or so, but it's a clever 6 part scifi mini-series about technology and power that probably has more resonance than ever in our current milieu. As a new interactive, holographic TV system is about to be launched a corporate lawyer finds his family and world turned upside down when he's drawn into a conflict between two groups vying for the future, the Fathers and the Friends, the former helmed by a demented CEO determined to translate recent successes into political power and digital immorality. There's big buckets of talent involved on and off screen - Oliver Stone producing, Kathryn Bigelow directing and Belushi, Loggia, Dourif, Dickinson and a trailer load of other familiar faces starring but it's actually the script that shines through for once with the crisp dialogue sheltering a careful ambiguity. Like Green Man, the past 20 years haven't done it any favours and maybe Belushi is a bit out of his depth but it's still a potent, if unheard, clarion call about the dangers of mixing corporations with politics.

Star Porn

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Kinda Groovy Kinds of Love

Peter Sellers made some great films during his long career (despite being a bit of a shit in real life) but I Love You, Alice B. Toklas! is distinctly a lesser Sellers. Sellers stars as a stuffy lawyer, sleepwalking his way to marriage and a staid suburban life but becomes tempted by a pretty hippy chick into dropping out and embracing an alternative lifestyle. Unfortunately this is 90 mins of cliche stitched together with a half hearted Sellers performance, some "groovy" music and a couple of pot based wig-out scenes worst of all it barely raised a smile, let alone a chuckle. A vapid, tepid Hollywood attempt to cash in - avoid.

A Safe Place, however, is the real deal, drenched as it is, in the LSD/experimental, counter culture of the era. A beautiful but troubled, young space cadet played by Tuesday Weld beguiles a square into a life of drugs, free love and mystical thinking and the pair's relationship blossoms despite the intervention of a predatory Jack Nicholson and the girl's persistent reminiscences of a tubby magician played by Orson Welles. Directed by Henry Jaglom, who edited Easy Rider & went onto direct Tracks, this is a tricky watch; the narrative is scattered and dream like and the script meandering and stuffed with the hippy burblings of the day. Nonetheless it's at least committed to it's cause and culminates in a strange ambiguous, bittersweet ending.

Tin Foil Millinery

Is Barbara Bush the daughter of Aleister Crowley?

The Virginia quake might have caused by the covert nuking of secret underground bases, or not?

Former NASA staffer Ken Johnston says there are alien cities on the Moon.

The hidden story of the Fukushima disaster?

Is Nicolas Cage immortal? Some dude is selling the photographic evidence on Ebay. Moviefone.
LinkAum cult boffin was a Tesla nut and claimed the Kobe earthquake was artificial. Reddit. Disinfo have the anime they made as a recruiting tool.

Some Frenchie scientist found an alien implant in Napoleon's skull.

The increase in UFO sightings is the build up to a staged, faux alien invasion, apparently.

Got handed another flyer bout this Scottish paedo ring the other day. And while we're on the subject here's a UK doc that was apparently never aired.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Indifferent Intrigues

Charles Bronson and Lee Remick are KGB agents entrusted with saving the world in Telefon, a 70's thriller from Don Siegel. Pesky wig wearing Donald Pleasance is roaming Murica activating hypnotised suicide agents forgotten in the days of detente and Bronson is flown in to hunt him down. It rolls along at a reasonable pace with bombs popping off every 20mins or so but never really gripped me and most of the cast float along in the wake of the big budget action sequences. Still with Schiffrin, Siegel and Silliphant involved this is at least above par action nonsense.

Stanley Donen tries to emulate his own Charade formula of bantering intrigue with Peck and Loren in Arabeseque a light, frothy caper about assassins and cyphers. Aging Peck stars as an academic don tasked with translating a Hittite inscription by friend and foe alike but is soon beguiled by the luminous, deceitful Loren and caught in a web of shifting allegiances. The script is dry and sharp but the action weak and offers no weight or tension to balance against the fluff. Charming if vacuous but decent enough for a Sunday afternoon.

Blacks n Whites

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Some Of The Kids Are All Right-ish

Submarine is a beautifully crafted coming-of-age comedy from Richard Ayoade. Set in 80's Wales our odd little romeo Oliver set his sights on a girl but his uneasy navigation through the hormonal waters is perturbed by her mother's ill health and his own's affection for the sleazy new age guru living next door. The performances and script are tight and it's bone dry humour reminded me a little of Rushmore but it's the confident production that pushes this far beyond the usual tropes of adolescent rom com and into one of the best British films I've seen in ages.

Tubster Kevin Smith is famous for his comedies so I was delighted to hear he'd stretched himself into new ground with Red State, a dark and lovely, visceral side swipe at the batshit Westboro Baptist Church and the state powers that breed then cull them. 3 young dudes venture into trailer park territory on the promise of internet sourced sexy times and find themselves at the mercy of a freaky apocalyptic church with bloody intentions. The film has two excellent performances from Michael Parks as the demented Pastor and John Goodman as the Fed called in to deal with the the situation but it's Smiths sharp script and tight, tight direction that make this such an enjoyable thriller.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Sciencey Sampler

Initial steps to inorganic life. Impactlab.

Placebo power & sleep paralysis. Atlantic.

Animal think like Autistic Savants? Science Daily.

Mulling Martian Methane. Daily Galaxy

Psychiatric pong?

Green Moon flash. DailyGalaxy.

First double Sun planet found. Nasa

Explaining Near Death Experiences. Scientific American.

Lasers producing 'lectricity? Impactlab

Skull stymies straightforward evolution story. BBC

Southern lights snapped from Space Station. BoingBoing.

Additional August Audios

Monday, 5 September 2011

Asbo & Astro boys Alien Assualts

Joe Cornish's directorial debut, Attack The Block, is a pretty decent alien invasion flick about a bunch of hoody yoofs thwarting some shiny toothed critters. There's plenty of action and a few laughs along the way as the motley crew use there lofi weapons and urban skills over the course of a Bonfire night to defend their tower block, enlisting mugging victims and petulant girlies to their cause. The acting is decent enough and it carefully walks the tightrope of stereotypes eventually fleshing out the gang into a fairly likeable bunch but it could have been funnier or maybe that just cause of my too high Adam and Joe based expectations.

Apollo 18 is reasonably entertaining entrant into the found-footage canon basing it's pseudo history on one of the unlaunched final Apollo Moon missions. A bunch of 'stronauts land on the lunar surface for the usual scientific endeavours and stumble across an abandoned Soviet lander and some pesky rock samples. FF features usually suffer from shaky cam overload but they mostly avoid that trap here and pile on the period detailing. It does suffer occasionally with indistinct audio in its strive towards "authenticity"and it's all fairly silly but nonetheless this is a claustrophobic horror that milks it's tiny budget for some genuine chills and the tension builds to a suitably dark finale.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Friday, 2 September 2011

Faces come out of the Rain

My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done is a deliciously strange feature from Werner Herzog. Based on a true story the film reveals, mostly in flashback, the story of a Peru-damaged wanna be actor who slaughters his Ma with a samurai sword. This quiet, odd little film succeeds solely on the richness of the performances Herzog coaxes from his players including Willem Dafoe's flippant detective, Dourif's racist giant chicken breeder and the stunning, fragile malevolence of Michael Shannon trammelled, unhinged killer. Though some might find it a touch affected, I was glued to the screen and it demonstrates what potent actors and skillful direction can bring to simple stories. As much as I enjoy Herzog's documentaries I can't wait for his next narrative.

The inspired casting of Mel Gibson as the deranged lead lends an extra weight to The Beaver, the story of a depressed exec who turns his life around with the help of a glove puppet he finds in the bin. Shockingly for a fairly formulaic journey of discovery pic it's actually quite a decent watch, Gibson puts in a fine performance as the doe-eyed sadsack and his consistent, Ray Winston-ish accented alter ego is surprisingly competent. Jodie Foster plays the long-suffering wife with aplomb but is overshadowed by her excellent direction; for such a curious, quirky tale there's been plenty of effort staging, scripting and shooting the film . Dunno maybe my faculties had been impaired, as I did watch it towards the end of a bottle of wine, but I really enjoyed it. A weird suburban tale of sanity/madness and the family unit.