Friday, 31 August 2012

Buddy Cop Double Dose

Flashpoint is a 1980's thriller that reeks of it's era with dodgy music, full fat machismo and acting of spurious quality. Two disgruntled border patrolmen uncover a crashed plane, sniper rifle and a big bag of cash in the desert and soon find their good fortune has a price when their tentative investigations provoke the attention of the NSA. The two leads Kris Kristofferson and Treat Williams lazily chew their way through the hamfisted scripted and although the plot has potential it's doused by the shouty posturing, dull witted characterisations and unnecessary subplots. Wouldn't bother unless your fond of the alt-theories surrounding Dallas '63 or shit films.

A few years later and Off Limits sees Gregory Hines and Willem Dafoe offer a better expression of the buddy cop formula by playing a pair of jaded, wisecracking detectives struggling with crime in Saigon during the Vietnam war. When a prostitute turns up dead the duo find themselves hunting a serial killer amidst the chaos of the city, bumping into a sexy nun, psychotic colonel and a camp counterpoint along the way. There's plenty of action stuffed in beside the fairly formulaic thriller plot but it's the commendable performances of Hines and Dafoe which rescue the film from mediocrity and they've strong support from Fred Ward and Scott Glenn. It's not amazing, just a solid, fairly entertaining retro cop drama with a decent soundtrack.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Book Arts

Lovely drawings from a 17th Century book about perspective illusions and an excellent little article on BibliOdyssey.
Fantastic illustrations by proto-scifi author Albert Robida from his 19th Century trilogy, La Vie Electrique. Courtesy of Retronaut.
Hip 50's infographics from an Anatomy textbook, via Brainpickings.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Crooked Country Trips

Lee Marvin and Gene Hackman chew lumps off each other in the sleazy 70's thriller Prime Cut. When Hackman's rural gangster refuses to pay his dues the Chicago mob send ice-cool Marvin down country to make things right. Both leads consummately trade variants of smiling menace but the wry scripting keeps things fresh and although it's pretty formulaic stuff it has a certain grubby period charm what with the lady auctions, human sausages and a Combine harvester chase scene. A solid, occasionally barmy, tale of sex trafficking and hubris that gets plenty of good stuff from Hackman and Marvin but is otherwise unremarkable.
There's far less charm in the greasy backwoods thriller Poor Pretty Eddie but it more than makes up for it by it's sheer derangement. A sultry Jazz singer gets stuck in hillbilly hell after her car breaks down and ends up in a motel run by a soused cabaret wash up and her two male companions, a giant idiot and a lusty Elvis impersonator. Unaccustomed to guests of colour her presence causes ructions and it's not long before she finds herself in serious danger after attracting the eye of the unstable young lothario, Eddie. The script is perfunctory and it looks terrible but it's quite loopy in a 70's shlock/exploitation sort of way and Shelly Winters as the mother hen provides good ham throughout. Low brow & raw, it's probably only going to appeal to trash cinema collectors.

Harrowed Souls

Robert Altman's 1972 film Images, is a twisted little chiller about madness and sanity that has more atmosphere than a dozen contemporary features. A children's author, plagued by mysterious phone calls, flees with her hubby to their country cottage only for her troubles to deepen and as she scrabbles about furiously for her missing marbles she decides to conquer her visions violently. There's a nebulous ambiguity to the film with momentary doppelgangers, missing time and jumbled identities all confidently sewn together by a stunning performance from Susannah York whose descent into madness throbs incessantly at the centre of the film.

Madness and paranoia plague another beautiful woman, Lena Hedley, in low budget chiller The Broken. After spotting her doppelganger in the streets of London our protagonist is involved in a car accident and finds herself questioning her own her sanity when other family members begin to seem a little 'different'. Though it lacks the subtlety and ambiguity of Images this is a nice little horror whose effectiveness lies on the measured yet tremulous central performance from Hedley rather than it's script which stumbles in the final third, over exerting itself explaining away it's mysteries.

HBO Home Truths

HBO has built up a fair catalogue of high quality TV productions and The Notorious Bettie Page is a good example of their efforts. Shot in a beautiful monochrome the biopic follows the career of the (in)famous model who appeared in a bevy of glamour and bondage magazines in the 1950's. Gretchen Mol fleshes out the naive, big hearted wannabe starlet with panache and is supported with a number of recognisable faces but the script/plot are a little timid and like so many biopics it struggles to balance the events of the subject's history with the necessary character development. Still it's a good watch and I can think of worse ways to spend 90mins than stare at Mol romping about in her undercrackers.

Citizen X is a dramatisation of the true story of a Soviet serial killer who managed to kill 50 before being caught. Stephen Rea's trammeled detective is tasked with the hunt by his sly boss, played by Donald Sutherland, and the pair must thwart Moscow's interference and professional incompetence in their years long search for the murderer. Though it's not as pretty to look at as Bettie Page the script and performances provide an effective atmosphere of quiet, tragic desperation though Rea does occasionally drift into Droopy-esque levels of morosity.

Scientific Scintillas

Curiosity takes a lovely self portrait. Via

Scientists have found photosynthetic cells in aphids. Nature

Parasitic infection may result in depression and suicide. SciDaily

Mutant Butterflies are showing up in Japan. Popsci

Sexually spurned flies turn to booze
. Sciencemag

A new type of scan reveals the brain's neuronal structure may be actually quite simple. Singularityhub.

Newly developed titchy ion microthrusters could propel modest satellites. SciDaily

Game designed to alleviate depression more successful than counselling. Atlantic

New family of clawed spiders found in Oregon. BBC

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Sellers Joy

Peter Sellers plays an Italian master thief in After the Fox written for stage and screen by Neil Simon and released in '66. Lured by an impending shipment of gold Sellers escapes from prison and teams up with his old crew and young carefree sister in a caper involving a visiting, failing Hollywood star, played by Victor Mature, and some naive villagers from a small coastal town. Mature's excellent, self parodying performance is matched by Sellers', who for once avoids the obvious national cliches, and as you'd expect with Simon holding the pen there's plenty of snappy banter and laughs from the get go. Sadly I found the finale a little underwhelming and it cast shadow over the previous fun and frolics, nevertheless a lesser Sellers is still worth 3 or 4 contemporary comedies so if you fancy a gust of light 60's farce it's worth catching.

In The Naked Truth Peter Sellers stars as a deviously twee Scottish TV personality who, like Terry Thomas and Shirley Eaton, are being blackmailed by a shady, supercilious tabloid editor. After joining forces they make increasingly deranged attempts to thwart his plans but never quite get it right. It's a lovely little, Ealing-eque farce that has plenty of great lines and laughs, all delivered by the excellent cast with an effortlessness that demonstrates their seasoned talents. Sellers gets an opportunity to don a number of disguises and flex his comic character muscles (as his wont) and it's to the credit of the rest of the cast that he never manages to outshine them. Another thoroughly enjoyable Sellers effort that's been unfortunately eclipsed by his prodigious successes elsewhere.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Grabbed by the Ghoulies

Tales from the Hood is a horror anthology which, although lacking in decent scares, has a nice line in social commentary and gangsta posturing. The frame story sees three thugs turn up at a funeral parlour to collect some 'product' but the owner, played with plenty of crazy by Clarence Williams, decides to entertain his guests with some grisly stories first. Although the segments are fairly typical fare they're given an added socio-political flavour with the inclusion of police brutality, child abuse, and racist politicians peppering the tropes. It won't raise a single goosepimple and the sfx are a pretty ropey but there's enough chuckles along the way to keep you moderately entertained. Good fun for fans of black culture but not for horror aficionados.

V/H/S on the other hand has a plethora of creepy moments and some deliciously grisly murders all filmed lovingly in that found footage style that I'm so fond of (but most seem to hate). The framing narrative sees a bunch of reprobates break into some old codger's house looking for a specific video cassette but when they're faced with dozens of candidates they decide to watch a few to help narrow it down. Amongst their better finds are a clubbing succubus, an unusual woodland slasher and a Skype haunting which are given fresh twists and turns that kept me glued to the screen. As always with these portmanteaus there some variance in the quality of acting and some of the 'artefacts' of the footage got a bit dull but they're all nicely scripted, cleverly shot (exploiting the found footage motif with more imagination than most) and there's enough blood and viscera to satisfy the gorehounds.

Slumping Scares

Nailbiter is a low budget horror about a mother and her daughters getting caught in a hurricane mid roadtrip and their unfortunate decision to retreat to a nearby basement for shelter only to find it's already got a toothy, quite peckish inhabitant. There's a smidge of tension, a little gore and I quite liked the set up but it's soured by some shonky acting and a rapid descent into predictability. I suppose it deserves some merits for having a mostly female cast but their characters are thumbnails and the plot keeps them on well trod paths.

The Sender is strange little horror film about a suicidal amnesiac admitted to a mental ward who apparently can, quite vigorously, project his consciousness into the minds of those around him. It's decidedly 80's with ropey acting, comic sfx and a cheesy script but there's plenty of chuckles to be had as John Doe's power wreaks some er 'unusual' havoc among patients and staff alike. Still the premise is at least somewhat original and it's kind of carried along by it's misplaced confidence so much so I ended up quite liking it. Out of the two I'd say Sender's worth a watch, at least it has the decency to be so bad it's good.

Cockamamie 70's

I was unaware that Bruce Lee had written a script shortly before his death but I'm pretty sure that Circle of Iron wasn't quite what the film he had in mind. The film opens with a martial arts contest with the competitors vying for the opportunity to read a book of wisdom hidden from the rest of the world. The loser of the final bout follows the victor on his travels to the books hiding place and takes on the quest when his chum carks it early on. The script and acting are painfully piss poor especially from the muscle bound lead, Jeff Cooper (who sports a 'do that scuppers any of attempts at profundity) and David Carradine's multiple turns aren't much better but worst of all the plot is a lumpy mish mash of Eastern thought that I'm sure doesn't reflect Lee's intention or ambitions. Only worth watching if you want to see something spectacularly bad.

Dr Black, Mr Hyde is a blaxploitation-era version of RLS's classic tale and despite it's obvious budget constraints manages a half decent job. Our protagonist is developing a cure for liver disease but under pressure for results takes a dose himself and finds the side effects of super strength and (amusingly unconvincing) honkeydom quite exhilarating and predictably chaos reigns as family, friends and colleagues feel the wrath of this changed man. Though the script and plot are decidedly of it's era Bernie Casey is surprisingly good and all in all I quite enjoyed it. Not exactly a classic but if you want something with a little period charm there's worse out there.

Aural Acquisitions

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Sixty Eights

Joseph Losey's Secret Ceremony is a fraught, twisted melodrama bedecked with the talents of Liz Taylor, Robert Mitchum & Mia Farrow. Grieving the loss of her daughter, Taylor's whore befriends a recently orphaned teenager after an encounter on the bus and the pair develop an unnerving, fantastical relationship, each playing the 'role' of their lost loved who they happen to resemble. Cooped up together in the plush manor Farrow inherited, their intense bond is further complicated with the arrival of a predatory Robert Mitchum. This is a dark, wordy film about the dirty interpersonal webs we weave, tear at, then reweave and it's three leads, even Taylor, put in exceptional performances.

Otto Preminger's Skidoo is a big studio attempt to cater to 1968's acid crowd but mostly falls flat on it's face in a similar fashion to say, I Love You Alice B Toklas. An aging mobster, played by Jackie Gleason, is forced out of retirement to deal with an errant mobster by God, his eccentric kingpin and a mildly entertaining, faintly psychedelic caper ensues. Sporting a veritable panoply of stars including Groucho Marx, Slim Pickens & Burgess Meredith the comedy is inconsistent, plotting half baked and the LSD trip sequences so cliched and trite that it's immediately obvious that no-one involved had ever had a taste of the good stuff. A spectacular, craptastic failure.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Paperback Pleasures

The Time of Angels is a novel ostensibly about an isolated and troubled household from the pen of Iris Murdoch but which overflows with ruminations on theology and morality. A new Rector moves into a bombed out parish with a couple of young wards and they live in a strange, cloistered bubble, relying on the devoted housekeeper to keep all and any visitors at bay. This unsettling inertia is slowly fractured by the presence of the incumbent caretaker and his wayward son. Each of Murdoch's characters have delicious tensions bubbling away under the surface but it;s rd. There's plenty of meat on the bones here but what's striking is Murdoch's skill in building and sustaining the most peculiar atmosphere and though, with hindsight, the denouement seems a little flat by contemporary standards it nevertheless kept me up late into the night in a race to the finish.

is a tasty, toothy satire of American culture and excess from the brilliant Don DeLillo. The book follows the progress of a young, gifted billionaire trying to cross NY for a haircut in his fancy stretch limo. The slow pace allows for plenty of drop ins and outs, a little global market tinkering and smatterings of food, sex, death and the big city life. DeLillo's prose is pin sharp and jostles some serious criticism into our antihero's little odyssey who despite being thoroughly detestable still raises a few laughs as he crushes ideas, people and currencies with a wry indifference. It's a facile comparison I know but he seems to cover ground similar to Ballard, the pointed barbs aimed at our shiny modernity, vague psychology and amoral profiteering all with the whiff of anomaly and the unusual. A classy novella that's definitely worth reading and there's still time to get through it before Cronenberg's adaptation hits the big screen.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Four Finger Snaps

Supercharged Actioneering

The Man from Nowhere is a prime example of Korea's commitment to making blistering action thrillers that make their Western counterparts seem tame and toothless in comparison. Quietly running a pawn shop since the death of his wife our retired special forces protagonist is forced to dust off his deadly skill set when his neighbour's daughter is kidnapped by gangsters. Though the set up is brief and fairly hackneyed there's some heart to the script and some wry humour which go some of the way in alleviating the unrelenting violence as the hero spends 70 mins or so of the film smashing, snapping and pummelling his way through a slew of henchmen enroute to a very, very bloody finale. Brilliant but definitely not for the fainthearted.

The Raid: Redemption
is an Indonesian film about a SWAT team attempting to clear a tower block that's firmly under the control of a drug lord and unsurprisingly things get very messy, very fast. The plot is paper thin and there's only the vaguest attempt at characterisation as this film is all about the action and bedlam and what a cornucopia of action is offered. I can't think of a single film which can match the ferocity, the merciless brutality of the violence on offer here as the squad shoot, hack, slice, punch, kick and gouge their way to the top. The action is beautifully choreographed, nicely shot but it's the incessant pace that's jaw dropping, literally breath taking and you'll find yourself, like me, unable to look away till it's conclusion. If you thought Man from Nowhere was too light and frothy try this instead, you won't be disappointed.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Whirring Cogs

Apparently mean/unpleasant internet comments aren't necessarily a result of anonymity more the lack of eye contact. Scientific American

Misunderstanding statistics isn't confined to students with lecturers failing to appreciate crucial concepts. PDF of the paper here.

'Global' brain connectivity seems to be a powerful new predictor of individual intelligence. ScienceDaily.

There's a nice bit on the psychology of persuasion on Farnum Street.

Kicking back against the so called wisdom of the crowds. Impactlab.

Studying the brains of lucid dreamers is helping to reveal the neurophysiological 'basis' of consciousness. Reddit.

Head injuries big and very small can have a lasting effect on our noggins.

There's a nice list of cognitive biases over here, via Reddit.

Fascinating article about psychosis and insight, via Mindhacks.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Black & White Gold

Sullivan's Travels is a delightful Preston Sturgess movie about a Hollywood film maker who, bored with churning out frothy comedies, wants to change direction and adapt 'O Brother, Where Art Thou' a worthy, depression set drama. As he's never experienced poverty he decides to live like a hobo to gain some understanding (much to the consternation of his studio execs) and a light, rather lovely comedy roadtrip ensues. With a quick witted script and some fine acting from Veronica Lake and Joel McCrea as the pair of psuedo bums, Sturgess balances the laughs, a little romance and a few poignant lessons about life effortlessly into what is a thoroughly enjoyable film and probably one of the best films I've seen in ages.

Before The Third Man, Carol Reed & Graham Greene worked together to fashion a wonderfully poised thriller called The Fallen Idol released in 1948. The young son of an Ambassador is left in the company of the butler, Mr Baines, and his harsh housekeeper wife for a weekend and quickly becomes embroiled in a web of secrecy and witness to the eventual dissolution of their relationship. Beautifully shot and with taut, restrained performances from the adult cast the tension builds deliciously until the climax and a torrent of emotion is unleashed. This is an excellent thriller that's sadly over shadowed by the pairs subsequent success.

Lame Lessons

Juno Temple stars as the school bike in the 80's set, bittersweet comedy Dirty Girl. After getting busted down to remedial class, the louche protagonist befriends a chubby, closeted dweeb and the pair go on the lam with a bag of flour baby in vague search of her father. It's quite funny but it's the excellent performances from Temple, H. Macy and Jovovich that give it some depth and though the plot is remarkably predictable it develops an unexpected edge. Maybe with a new title, a couple more gags and a little more imagination with the plot this could've been great but as it is, it's just a moderately enjoyable peice of fluff.

Bad Teacher, unfortunately, has less laughs and fewer decent performances to lift it's humdrum plot beyond anything other than factory floor Hollywood dustbunny. Cameron Diaz does her best as a loafing high school teacher who decides to put some effort in to win an award so she can pay for a boob job and finds herself drawn to a new upbeat teacher played by empty eyed man-doll Justin Timberlake. It's not an awful premise but there's barely enough laughs for it to qualify as a comedy a shame as I suspect, originally, it had a darker, filthier tone that's been washed out the way.