Monday, 30 January 2012
The Big Doll House is a 'so bad it's good' 70's lady-prison thriller probably most notable for Pam Grier's debut performance. A dizzying selection of beauties are incarcerated in a sweaty Asian jail run by a sexually frustrated, sadistic warden. As the torture and ill treatment escalates they decide escape is their only option and manipulate a couple of rapey, moronic men to assist. As you might imagine the script and acting aren't up to much but there's enough violence, thoroughly un-pc humour and rakes of gratuitous nudity to make this low budget flick a classic of exploitation cinema.
Big Bad Mama is a Roger Corman romp starring Angie Dickinson, Skerrit and Shatner. A mother and her two teenage daughters embark on an audacious life of crime and mayhem, blasting their way across America with much enthusiasm, picking up a couple of dudes on the way to keep their beds warm. Despite the obviously tight budget there's plenty of action of one sort or another but it's real strength lies with Dickinson's dominating central performance, portraying the sassy, driven matriarch with such brio that it eclipses the failings of the rest of the cast. Another surprisingly accomplished and enjoyable Corman production.
Sunday, 29 January 2012
Nice bit about the under appreciated Abraham Maslow, via Mind Hacks.
Scientists may have sketched out how "sacred" beliefs differ from everyday thoughts. SciDaily
Some adventurous attempts to make sense of the Psilocybin experience, Neurophilosophy
Modest pdf article examining the brain differences caused by meditative practice, Reddit
Some boffins are fretting over the recent successes in cognitive enhancement techniques, particular direct noggin stimulation, via Oxford Uni
Another interesting brain boosting experiment using fMRI feedback appears to show learning without any intent.attention at all, TheAtlantic
Ketamine appears, from recent trials. to offer immediate relief from depression, Reddit
Locust's brains are helping us reveal the mechanisms behind our associative memories, SciDaily
Haitian Zombification still engenders study, Mind Hacks
Review of a recent compilation of papers on Panpsychism, Reddit
Friday, 27 January 2012
A young boy has to spend the summer with his feckless, effete father in the robot battling slice of cheese that is Real Steel. Essentially a remake of Stallone's Over The Top with snazzy cgi automata replacing the mulleted musclemen, this cliche riven tale has a Spielberg-ish focus on the father/son bond instead of concentrating on a future where robots duke it out for sport. Jackmon and Lilly's performances are competent enough but are only a smidge more emotional than the bots they tinker with and the script is just as functional. I know this wasn't made with a 30 plus viewer in mind and I'm not sure why even bothered but even for a kids film this was anodyne, stunningly formulaic guff. Definitely not the droids I was looking for.
Perversely the Harold and Kumar franchise seems to improve with it's sequels and A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas was the tightest and funniest yet. The pot heads have drifted apart but an adventure to track down a replacement Xmas tree brings them back together and they stumble their way through an increasingly unlikely series of escapades. With a sharp script and an admirable gag rate this inane, simple minded comedy kept me chuckling throughout and though it's not going to appeal to everyone it knows it's target market and has no lofty pretensions. I'm sure this won't be the last we'll see of the pair.
Friday, 20 January 2012
The Tunnel is a crowd-funded, VODO distributed, found footage horror from Down Under and it's actually quite good, well a few bits gave me the willies. A news crew decide to poke about some abandoned subway tunnels after some vagrants and yoofs go missing but they soon realise their mistake when the sound man is snatched by an elusive entity. Torn between a good story and their own safety they remaining crew stumble around for while before it becomes apparent their stalker is still hungry. Nicely made, especially given it's titchy budget, and reasonably acted this has plenty of vim and despite the talking head spots that intersperse the action, it still manages to build the fear quite nicely.
7 Nights of Darkness, though just as cliched as Tunnel, doesn't manage to muster the same amount of atmosphere. Reality TV contestants are challenged to stay a week in a haunted hospital and the skeptical bunch are soon made aware there's some truth to the tales of spectral kids and malignant entities. Populated with a clutch of stereotypical characters and some ropey actors wheezing life into the predictable script this limps along with little imagination or merit.
Thursday, 19 January 2012
Beautiful false dawn captured in India, APOD
Russia's failed Phobos Grunt probe has returned home, somewhere off the coast of Chile. But they're looking to blame the Yanks for it's demise due to it maybe getting zapped by an asteroid radar. NS
The deepest vents yet have been discovered in a Caribbean rift and they're teaming with life, SciDaily
Some German's have built the tiniest storage device ever - an 8 bit magnetic data store made out of 96 atoms. SciDaily.
Umami was the fifth but now tongue-focussed scientists have discovered the sixth taste, fat. ImapctLab.
Interesting article about Octopi & consciousness, Reddit.
NASA refutes ufologist's assertion that a triangular UFO was snapped by Stereo-B, Daily G
Boffins have been noodling about investigating the links between our body clock and schizophrenia, NS
Another stunning video from the ISS, Reddit
Tuesday, 17 January 2012
Iris Murdoch's faux gothic fable The Unicorn is a intriguing, tense read about a woman seemingly house-bound in the wilds of west Ireland after a love affair gone wrong. The airless status quo is disrupted with the arrival of a young tutor, who's intrigued by the mysterious characters and circumstances behind the curious living arrangements and it's not long before she's tempted to resolve the situation once and for all. It's beautifully written and Murdoch builds a disturbing, atmosphere pregnant with actions and words unsaid and it builds nicely until it's inevitable crescendo. It's a wonderful read but I'm beginning to suspect that I'm missing some of the symbolism or subtext that lurk beneath the surface of Murdoch's novels.
Rudyard Kipling's Strange Tales is a compendium of peculiar little stories, set mostly in colonial era India. There's ghosts, ghouls, werewolves, pits of death and a miasma of weirdness all written with a direct, sparse prose, though old fashioned and a little stilted, somehow manages to imbue the events with an extra chill. Few books have ever actually frightened me and Kipling's is no exception but his strength lies in the descriptions of the psychologies of the disturbed and perturbed characters as they face unsettling, incomprehensible scenarios. Maybe a little patchy but definitely worth a look.
Monday, 16 January 2012
Thomas Alfredson's condensed adaptation of Le Carre's classic spy thriller Tinker Tailor was a surprising success. With an accomplished, talented cast including Cumberbatch, Hardy, Jones, Firth and Oldman and an impressive script the tale of Smiley's mole hunt unravels at a deliberate pace that slowly winds the tension up towards the big reveal. Obviously the book and the original have a level of detail you can't squeeze into a 2 hour movie but they've crafted a pretty strong version which, along with the superb cinematography, will no doubt garner plenty of awards. Hopefully they'll do The Honorable Schoolboy next instead of jumping straight to Smiley's People like the Beeb did.
Director Tarsem Singh's previous efforts The Cell and The Fall were beautifully lush films but paper-thin and Immortals, based loosely on the Greek myth of Theseus, follows that same pattern. Our protagonist is forced into taking up arms when the evil king Hyperion ravages his land in search of a fabled bow with which he can release the Titans. Rourke, Dorff and Cavill are joined by the luminous Pinto in the super glossy sword and sandals action and they all manage to put in good performances however the script is fairly week and the Titans themselves a little, er, underwhelming so the whole thing kind of fizzles out at the end, of course there's a fat hint towards a sequel but I guess that'll depend on the box office. Despite all it's flaws I still quite enjoyed it, think Clash of the Titans with a God of War commitment to stylish violence and hyperbolic visuals.
Friday, 13 January 2012
For All the Tea in China is a novelisation of the adventures of the Victorian botanist/plant hunter, and my ancestor, Robert Fortune. Covering his second, illegal trip into the Chinese hinterland this time he's is trying to steal the secrets of the coveted Green & Black Teas of China which are still highly prized and, at the time, a cornerstone of the Chinese economy. Fortune's search of seeds, saplings and Tea expertise was at the behest and expense of the East India Company, the very model of a ravenous, brutal corporate monster. The book pads out his dramatic and tense encounters with locals, pirates and warlords with plenty of social and historical background. Fortune comes across as a determined, passionate man who had no shortage of gumption but as much as he seems to admire the Chinese themselves he doesn't appear to understand or acknowledge much awareness (or maybe sympathy) for China's people and their cultural/political situation. There is one moment however, during his trip into the Wu Yi mountains, bowed over by the beauty of the landscape and the generosity of the monks that helped him, that he shows a more humane side. The writing is good, if a little unremarkable, and it's certainly a much easier read than Fortune's own memoirs of the time but it's the events & escapades of the main character that drive this book. I'm obviously a little bias but I really enjoyed it, a nice, interesting slice of history.
The Anatomist is another enjoyable tale of scientific discovery this time set in Renaissance Italy and about a man with a quite different passion. Mateo Colombo was a highly regarded physician of the era and after becoming smitten with a prestigious whore sets about finding a way to codify and manipulate female passions and during the process, stumbles onto a patient that reveals the existence of "Amor Veneris" aka the clitoris. There's less social/cultural scene setting than in For All... and the narrative is considerably more involved, reading almost like a novel but author Frederico Andahazi's light prose dances through the colourful story of Colombo's discovery, imprisonment & subsequent trial. There's a lots of laughs and a little tragedy along the way as well as the expected sex, death and politics and it's a fascinating & thoroughly entertaining read.
Thursday, 12 January 2012
30 Minutes or Less is a heist comedy starring Jessie Eisenberg, Danny McBride and Aziz Ansari. Floating through life as a pizza delivery man, Eisenberg gets himself kidnapped by some bumbling criminals who rig him into a bomb vest and demand he robs a local bank. Nicely made and sporting plenty of talent it's a decent if unexciting film. There are some laughs but the script isn't quite as sharp as it thinks it is and it rolls along to a cheesy, predictable conclusion. Given the individuals and director involved I had high hopes for this but I suspect the Tinseltown mangle squeezed out most of the fun.
A bunch of 30 somethings decide to hold one last party in their for-sale summer home and choose to go out with a bang in A Good Old Fashioned Orgy. With a cast of SNL luminaries and assorted players the film is actually a fairly sweet, almost old fashioned exploration of friendships and love which will no doubt disappoint the filth seekers as they plan and attend the initially excruciating gang bang. The script is mildly amusing but the charming performances and it's rather surprisingly chaste approach made the film quite an enjoyable, if slight, watch.
Much like the Brit sitcom-to-film features of years past, sadly The Inbetweeners movie fails to match the hilarity of the original series. The priapic boys head off for a sweaty Malia holiday with 'clunge' on their mind but as you'd expect their ineptitude and naiveté thwart their initial effors. There's some decent laughs throughout, mostly due to Neil's prediliction for bagging grannies, and the cast repeat their successes of the series but the script focusses too much time on their burgeoning emotional lives instead of concentrating on the crass. It's still a good effort but it's a shadow of what it could've been.
Wednesday, 4 January 2012
Woody Harrelson puts in a powerful performance in Rampart as a brutal, corrupt cop that finds himself in a maelstrom of controversy with few friends left in a Dept determined to clean house. Co-scripted by Ellroy, Harrelson's character, Dave Brown, is an amalgam of the author's previous psychotic/moralistic creations with the usual drink and drug problems, casual racism and misogyny oh and a tendency for brutal violence. After being caught on camera dolling out some 'justice' Brown is splashed about the TV and papers and, after his family abandons him, he slumps deeper & deeper into his own personal abyss. Though it's a fairly hackneyed plot, Woody's nuanced, almost fragile performance and the excellent direction/cinematography lend this plenty of extra weight. It stutters a bit in the final third but it's still a engrossing, dark character study - think Colours crossed with Bad Lieutenant.
Kill List is a British hitman thriller with heavy undertones of barking madness. It's hard to describe without giving away the twists and turns but the simple plot is soon mashed together with more than it's share of horror and oddness. After a botched job, our protagonist Jay and his chum Gal, are tempted back to work by a juicy contract and they leave their suburban lives for a murderous road trip, as you'd imagine, things don't go quite as planned and they're soon way out of their depth. The script is maybe a little basic but the two leads put in decent performances and the whole thing clips along at a fair rate with some jarring, jaw dropping violence but it's the slow burning atmosphere of dread that really impressed. As the pair complete their tasks it's more than apparent that there's more going on than they know and it builds and builds towards a bewildering, disturbing finale. Sure the ending was maybe a little obvious, even disappointing but I still enjoyed the film, A fine, dark thriller with shades of Dead Man's Shoes.
Tuesday, 3 January 2012
The fact that makers of The Thing prequel couldn't come up with a different title betrays their lack of imagination and the film certainly isn't a patch of Carpenter's seminal horror scifi. The plot follows the fate of the Norwegian campers who uncover the xenomorph and suffer amidst the ensuing chaos, mayhem and bloodshed. The acting is reasonable enough I guess and there's plenty of action but sadly the film pales in comparison with Carpenter's paranoid, tense feature with only a few wisps of atmosphere along the way and, though the CGi monster has some nice transformations, it's contemporary gloss detracts from the terror. The biggest disappointment however was the handful of lazy scenes which seemed to be direct lifts from the '82 version as if the filmmakers weren't sure if they were making a straight remake or a prequel. It was also pretty stupid of the director to bang on about how his new film would dovetail perfectly with the original when there's a number of inconsistencies and some of the deaths, thinking throat & wrists cut guy, occur off screen and are shoehorned into the last 5 mins.
The Amityville Haunting is a found footage pile of scat, riffing of the numerous earlier movies and the actual 'events'. The acting & script are awful and there's more unintentional laughs than scares peppering the meandering unfocused plot. If I hadn't been so hungover I might have got off my arse and switched it off but I made it through to it's thoroughly predictable end. Please don't make the same mistake.
Monday, 2 January 2012
2. King Curtis - Memphis Soul Stew
3. Andre Williams - Chicken Thighs
4. Johnny Otis - Alligator Meat
5. James Brown - Mother Popcorn
6. Kenny Burrell - Chitlins Con Carne
7. Pucho & his Latin Soul Brothers - Greasy Greens
8. Rufus Thomas - Soul Food
9. Maceo Parker - Pass The Peas
10. Willie Bobo - Fried Neckbones & Some Home Fries
11. Eddie Bo - Funky Jam
12. James Brown - Do The Mashed Potato
13. Professor Longhair - Jambalaya
14. Louis Armstrong - All That Meat & No Potatoes
15. Professor Longhair - Jambalaya
16. Dr John - Gris Gris Gumbo Ya
17. Booker T & The MG's - My Sweet Potato
18. D'Angelo - Chicken Grease
19. Tony Joe White - Polk Salad Annie
20. Herbie Hancock - Watermelon Man
The origins behind some of the more common superstitions.
Ireland's first case of spontaneous combustion.
Mother lode of odd Wikip entries.
Weird article about Japan's suicide forest.
Gallery of unusual and deadly gardens.
Hypnotic drop of H2O.
Crazy, Stupid, Love stars Steve Carrell as a middle aged man set adrift after his wife, Julianne Moore, leaves him for another man. After stumbling around bars heartbroken he's taken under the wing of a young lothario, Ryan Gosling, and shown the ropes of the modern dating scene. It's a moderately amusing little rom-com that has a surprising amount of maturity and nuance to the personal relationships involved and plenty of decent performances but there's just wasn't enough laughs for me and it plays out more like a heart warming drama than anything else. A well made film just don't go expecting chuckles.
There's more laughs in What's Your Number, a potty mouthed rom-com starring the gorgeous Anna Farris, but it's considerably less subtle and way more adolescent than it should be. Fired from her job a pretty singleton stumbles across a magazine article which says that women with more than 20 sexual partners are unlikely to ever get married so she starts a High Fidelity-esque journey of rediscovering her former hook-ups. The humour swings from low-brow to crass and the plot is fairly unbelievable and remarkably predictable but Farris is a charming lead and manages to breathe some life into the well trod ground.