Monday, 25 June 2012

Malcolm in the Outskirts

Joseph Losey directed Malcolm McDowell and Robert Shaw (who also penned the adaptation) in a curious, enigmatic 1970 chase thriller Figures in a Landscape. The film opens with a helicopter scouring the countryside in search of two escapees, Shaw and McD, who, still bound by their never named captors, are in a desperate race to reach a unspecified mountainous border crossing. The spartan plot with it's deliberate obfuscation of almost all details and the stark cinematography foster an atmospheric backdrop for our central duo, who, driven a little mad by captivity and the intensity of their pursuers bicker, reminisce and murder their way across the land towards freedom harried by the seemingly ever present chopper. It's success lies in the two brilliant, searing performances at it's core, with Shaw and McDowell throwing everything they've got into these febrile, traumatised yet determined men. A fantastic film that's seemingly fallen between the cracks but has now tumbled out onto YouTube.

Malcolm McDowell appears in another cryptic thriller, a decade or so later, called The Caller that in the most part is even more abstruse. McDowell plays an unnamed caller at a woodland cabin inhabited by a peculiar single white female, their uneasy encounter soon develops into a vastly more convoluted relationship with a darker tone and some ugly twists. I'd like to say more but it's definitely one of those plots best left unspoiled however I will tell you that while Figures never provides answers to it's questions, The Caller does and the denouement is, er, quite a surprise. McDowell's ambiguous, slightly google eyed performance outshines his co-star's fractured turn and though the script is strong it falters in the final furlong. This film is all about the ideas & the mind games however and in that regard it deserves plenty of credit for it's ambition and chutzpah. A very strange but highly enjoyable little oddity.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

The Great Antidote

Beautiful art from tinkering with ferrofluids. NewScientist.

Unusual and ancient structure found in Wales, BBC

Casual gaming appears to relieve anxiety and depression, via Reddit.

Interesting experiment into Freudian style unconscious anxieties. SciDaily.

The hunt is on for people with supersight. Discover.

Nice article about the gut over-riding the brain. Scientific American

Believing in Heaven or Hell appears to related to criminality. via Reddit.

Lichen can survive in space apparently, giving further credence to panspermia? SciDaily.

More Moon water evidence found. DailyGalaxy

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Potter's Potted Pasts

Dennis Potter was a film & television writer/director of some distinction, a proper auteur with a stinging intellect and much bravado. Singing Detective freaked me out as a child but I kept watching, mainly due to Potter's fondness for sex and gratuitous nudity but it's the television interview he did shortly before his death that I remember more than anything else (watch here) so I've decided to entertain myself with some of his oeurve. First up is Dreamchild a strange retelling/biopic of the adventures of Lewis Carroll's Alice peppered throughout with creatures from Jim Henson's Studio. An elderly Alice, on her first visit to the States to receive an honorary degree, recounts her childhood with the awkward, stammering author and with fact and fallacy tripping over one another she tries to reconcile those experiences and face up to her current situation. Dodgson is nicely played by Ian Holm and the ambiguity about his affections for the young girl are sensitively handled in Potter's script. As it progresses this seemingly slight period piece reveals a maturity and darkness to it's ruminations of memory and the telling of tall tales.

The colourful and fascinating life of Franz Anton Mesmer, the famed animal magnitiser/proto-hypnotist/deluded mystic (take your pick) is the focus of another of Dennis' scripts, the imaginatively titled Mesmer. If you're unaware his career for ailing the sick took off from the upper class salons of Paris in the late 18th C and against the prevailing wisdom of blood letting his theories and practises as well as other medical dingbattery swept across Europe. Now is not the time for debating what was actually going on with Mesmerism but there's little doubt that he did assist some of his early patients and Potter manages to nicely reflect the contradictory aspects of this showman/caregiver/fantasist/letch instead of taking the easy route and just piling on the scorn. Rickman clearly enjoyed his flavoursome role in this modest, occasionally amusing little biopic it's just a shame the sound production is a bit dodgy and ultimately they wasted too much time on the early part of his career.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Three Threats Within

Craic & Hack Jobs

Brendan Gleeson plays a bored, feckless Garda stuck in an Irish backwater in the dark comedy The Guard, The rural quiet is disturbed when some drug traffickers reconnoiter the area for a large delivery of product and the FBI send Don Cheadle to assist in their capture. Gleeson dominates the film with some brilliant one liners and his hilarious Churchill dog face but with Cheadle, Mark Strong and Liam Cunningham providing solid support and a surprising poignancy mixed through the script it's a thoroughly enjoyable romp.

Gleeson and Cunningham reunite in supporting roles in the Denzel/Reynolds spy thriller Safe House. A bored 'housekeeper' has his tedium shattered when a high value, treasonous agent is brought in for interrogation followed by a hit squad that'll do anything to stop him coughing up his info, the pair escap and a series of noisy flashy action sequences and stagey battle of wits ensue. Denzel phones in one of his competent but lackadaisical performances while Ryan tries too hard to convince as a cross eyed tough man and the script, plot and action are straight from Hollywood's factory floor - hardly worth bothering with.

Monday, 18 June 2012

In to the Works

Strange & beautiful installation using old VHS tape. Via Reddit.
Some nice esoteric art gathered at a Brooklyn gallery recently, Phantasmaphile via BoingB
Henri Matisse illustrated an edition of Joyce's Ulysses, belated Happy Bloomsday courtesy of Brain Pickings.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Kidding Mr Hitler

An eye-patched Burt Lancaster leads his weary squad to make a stand in a sumptuous, art stuffed medieval castle in the slightly surreal, almost mythical Castle Keep. With the Germans approaching their position the soldiers try to make the most of the brief hiatus by luxuriating in their new found home and the local town's well stocked brothel while their Captain finds himself in bed with the Count's young wife. There's plenty of comedy in the script but it's subsumed in a pathos, a melancholy not just from the war but a semideranged sorrow for the passage of time so when the inevitable conflict arrives the violence and death seems almost welcomed. A fine looking film with some excellent performances, presumably neglected for it's more ambitious intentions.

The Passage, on the other hand, uses it's WW2 setting & talented cast to unfurl a lurid, action packed chase film with little more ambition than popcorn entertainment. Anthony Quinn stars a grumpy Basque shepherd who agrees to escort a scientist, played by James Mason, and his family over the Pyrenees while being chased by a thoroughly insane SS officer. In fact it's Malcolm McDowell's hyperbolic, super camp portrayal of the Nazi antagonist that makes the film, the other performances are fine but with a mediocre script & formulaic plot without McDowell romping about in a swastika jockstrap or a chef's hat this wouldn't be worth a second glance.

Space Spectacles

The Noctis Labyrinthus trench on Mars has curious, possibly hydrated deposits. Nat Geo.
Voyager 1 is about to become our first interstellar object, Reuters.
Thackeray's Globules apparently, APOD.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Body Movin'

Tversity Trinkets

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol is a startling mediocre slice of big budget quiche. Tom and co are disavowed by the government after Kremlin kerfuffle and have to hoon about on their own, infiltrating & subterfuging in order to clear their names and save to world. Pegg returns along with the Tom Cruise-bot and the bow guy from Avengers and they all burble their way through a simplistic, by the numbers script making weak, ill judged jokes to pass the time between the set pieces. No shortage of budget but a complete lack of imagination - shiny dross.

Sam Shepard stars as an aging Butch Cassidy in the elegiac western Blackthorn. After faking his own death at the height of his career Butch slips into Boliva for a quiet life breeding horses but years later yearns to return to the States to see his remaining family, after being joined by an affable Spaniard however his plans soon fall apart. Though the plot is paper thin it's a beautifully crafted film with a thoughtful, restrained script and some excellent performances from Shepherd, Rea and Noreiga.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Slight Spectralisations

Returning to the family home after the death of her mother, a young woman becomes unsettled by supernatural shenanigans while tidying up the old biddy's affairs. The Pact is an admirably modest little film with a tiny cast and a reliance mostly on it's atmosphere than any gore or sfx for the scares and it's reasonably successful. The script is quite strong with a maturity to the characters that's not often associated with horror movies, mind you it helps to have an excellent central performance, from Caity Lotz, that ties things together. I'm not sure about the ending but it's one of the creepier films I've seen in a while.

Ti West's previous film was much lauded but did little for me so I wasn't sure about his latest, The Innkeepers, a fairly generic sounding haunted house pic. Two slacker hotel workers are working the last few shifts before the aging, supposedly haunted hotel gets closed down and tired of never seeing any spooks they finally provoke some action once an actress turned psychic checks in. Though The Pact was equally as bog standard in it's set up at least there was some acting chops on display, the main duo in this don't do the already cliched script any favours and only Kelly McGillis puts in a decent turn. Still there's a few scares and it has a certain charming 80's atmosphere to it but I still don't understand the hype about West.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Lies & Liars

The Tillman Story neatly describes the tragic turned tawdry scandal of the US military attempt to exploit the death of a NFL star who joined the Rangers and his bereaved family's dogged pursuit for the truth. With few frills this documentary soberly unravels the propaganda and official obstinacy that finally caved to reveal he'd been killed by his own trigger happy squad mates in a shambolic, tragic confrontation. Powerful, sobering stuff about the meaning of integrity and a government's lack of.

Errol Morris lightly spins the tale of a 1970's sex scandal in his documentary Tabloid. A one time rent a whip, nudey model kidnaps her true love, a bespectacled Mormon who's over here for a bit of missionary work and kickstarts a classic red top feeding frenzy much assisted by the verbose and quite loopy central figure, Joyce McKinney. Morris isn't too concerned about relaying the truth in this film as much as the colourful story and lurid characters involved and it's a highly entertaining bit of fluff.

Sounds Like

Northern Delights

Norwegian Ninja is a very odd alt-history dramatisation of the life of a Norwegian politician/spy, Arne Treholt, who was convicted of treason for selling secrets to the KGB. In this whimsical, highly silly retelling of his story however he's a spiritually gifted leader of an anti-terrorist squad of Ninja warriors who'll fight anyone threatening the Norwegian way of life. Playing out like a cross between a Wes Anderson film and some sub par 80's actioner like No Retreat all festooned with some ironically bad special effects and retro stylings. It's quite an entertaining 80 mins, sure I probably only got 50% of the jokes and had never heard of the main character but if you're looking for something quirky and offbeat you could do a lot worse than this.

Kin Dza Dza! sees a mismatched pair of Moscovites get catapulted to the far side of the universe by a homeless man they tried to help one morning and struggle through a baffling series of adventures searching for a way home. The acting is pretty good and it's a surprisingly effective scifi comedy mash that manages to mix in plenty of satirical pokes at class and conformity all topped with a silly yet dry sense of humour. Like Ninja above there was a few laughs that were beyond me but it's a very funny, charming Soviet scifi.

Nazi Nonsense

Undying Nazis are causing some Eastern European mayhem again (tut tut) in the B movie sequel Outpost: Black Sun. The tech behind their resurgence still tempts developed nations and as various soldiers struggle to recover it a couple of journalists find themselves behind enemy lines and in grave goose-stepping danger. As you'd expect no-one has bothered too much with the script or plot for that matter and the acting is as good as it needs to be I guess but the explication of the story dissipates any atmosphere and it's descends deeper into farce. A shame, for a homegrown horror the original was more fun, they really should've tried a little harder.

Moon Nazis plan to take control of the Earth in the trashy Iron Sky which, I'm sad to say, mostly squanders it's brilliant premise. A forgotten splinter of the Reich has spent the post war years slowly been building an invasion force of spacecraft on the dark side of the Moon (and going quite mad in the process) but their privacy and plans are disrupted by a bumbling celebrity astronaut. The bold and barmy set up is let down by a weak script which doesn't have the jokes or confidence to play it straight and a shambling, patchworked plot. Still it looks quite nice at times and I didn't switch it off.

Friday, 8 June 2012


Excellent gallery highlighting the nonsensical thinking in video games, via Reddit.

Amazing blog/feed twinning the internet's chief concerns Cats & Porn.

Some guy blogging about munching his way through the cheap crud available on supermarket shelves, via Reddit.

Nice dead cat gets retooled and becomes famous.

Whole bunch of prank letters sent to our capitalist overlords, Dark Roasted.

No idea what this underwater critter is but it sure is funny.

Bikini clad lovelies are overshadowed by comedic photobombers, via Buzzfeed.