Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Troubled Waters

CulpaHouse

Delving into the Catholic Church’s seemingly systemic paedophilia problem doesn’t exactly make for an entertaining watch but Mea Maxima Culpa, directed by Alex Gibney, is definitely worth the effort. Gibney initially focuses on some harrowing cases at a deaf school in America before developing the story internationally and though it begins to chart the bureaucratic incompetence and obfuscation of the Church he admirably maintain a heart breaking focus on the victims. A well reasoned, step by step damnation of the Church’s response to a most horrifying, devastating epidemic.

 

Another talented documentarian, Eugene Jarecki, takes a similarly hard yet emotionally grounded look at the War Against Drugs in his polemic The House I Live In. Starting with a story close to home Jarecki begins to chart the dubious socio-political roots of our prohibition policy and it’s rampant escalation into a multifaceted war without end. Jarecki gathers an interesting bunch of talking heads, including police officers, prison wardens, users, academics, dealers & Wire scribe David Simon to detail the severe cost of utter failure of this approach to every part of our society.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Iridescent Black & Whites

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A Taste of Fear is a tidy little Hammer thriller from 1962 starring Christopher Lee and Susan Strasberg. A pretty young crippled woman returns home from her schooling at the behest of her father only to find him curiously absent with just her new stepmother and chauffeur in attendance, her disquiet deepens when she begins to see visions of her Pops around the house in a less than lively condition. Nicely shot and sporting a tight, lean script ably fleshed by the skilled actors this brilliant little gem builds towards a finale that's as unexpected as it is brutal.
Blake Edwards is mostly remembered for his goofy comedies but he also made a considerable impact in other genres and thrilling Experiment in Terror is a fine example of his earlier work. A bank teller, played by Lee Remick, is forced into committing a heist by a seemingly ubiquitous, asthmatic bampot but his persistent terrorising begins to fall on deaf ears once she’s aided by a Fed, played by Glenn Ford. Stylishly shot and with buckets of atmosphere this thriller packs a fair punch and though, like Taste above, it’s plot is a little hackneyed the quality of script and performances elevate it well above the typical.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Paperback Perusalings

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Mark Pilkington has penned a highly interesting, mildly amusing study of 60 years of Ufology entitled Mirage Men. The central thesis, essentially, is that a variety of American agencies have quite actively fostered and encouraged the mythos of flying saucery as a handy cover for the development ant testing of experimental craft and as an unusual conduit for espionage. Pilkington carefully reinterprets most of the main historical ‘occurrences’ showing how key players have been closely linked to Psyops groups started in WW2 and how their disinformation was spread to focus and refocus the attention of the curious and/or nutty. A remarkably lucid, rather convincing read that’s only slightly mired by the author’s occasional dips into credulousness.

 

A Time before Genesis is a po-faced little pot boiler that weaves millenarian ramblings into some batshit global demonic/alien conspiracy capering, which, given it was written by the late comedian Les Dawson, really is quite a surprise. The plot is pretty standard stuff with a journalist stumbling into the murky mire but finding respite with a motley band of Crusaders fight together to thwart the evil that pervades the modern world. The writing is fairly terrible, characters paper thin and the plot well, it’s at least as barmy as it is derivative though it does have a nicely downbeat ending. I’m left wondering sadly if the late, great comic was a closet loon, a frustrated author or just trying to cash in on his renown, all in all a puzzling curio that probably isn’t worth the effort in hunting out.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Wandering Whimsies

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Whether you consider it a rip off or homage to Miyazaki’s work the animated Children Who Chase Lost Voices is a highly successful, quite charming adventure that could easily slip into Studio Ghibli’s masterful canon. A young girl picks up some unusual music on her crystal radio set that leads her into the company of an enigmatic boy from a subterranean kingdom and onto melancholic escapade. The writer/director Shinkai ‘borrows’ much of the animation stylings of Miyazaki, explores similar themes of loss and the passage of time and even cobbles together a patchwork plot that’s half Castle In the Sky, half Spirited Away but unfortunately forgets to lift the delicate scripting and well, modesty. A thoroughly entertaining film from a filmmaker with much promise.


Jackson continues to mine the rich Tolkien seam with the first part of his trilogy adapting The Hobbit. Martin Freeman, as usual, mugs his way through proceedings as Bilbo Baggins who gets recruited by a certain wizard into a dwarf heavy quest to evict a troublesome dragon blah blah blah, I’m sure you’re familiar with the plot. There’s more humour here than Lord of The Rings and it’s a sunnier production overall but Jackson still packs in plenty of action and, given it’s certification, a surprising amount of dismemberment.  As we’ve come to expect Jackson assembled a talented ensemble and his polished production and attention to detail make for lush storytelling and this, and it’s subsequent sequels, will no doubt rake in the cash as well as a plentitude of well deserved plaudits.

Abnormal Acts

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David Cronenberg’s son, Brandon, has clearly inherited his father’s penchant for body horror as his impressive debut Antiviral, a sneaky, low budget, high concept scifi flick positively glistens with creepy, twisted fleshiness. Working as a vendor of celebrity infections, our protagonist decides to scoop the competition and takes drastic measures to secure the mysterious affliction that’s struck down a beautiful young starlet. Cronenberg sketches out a nicely jaded dystopia where science has become a slave to the pernicious cult of celebrity and the quiet pacing and performances underpin it’s increasingly unsettling atmosphere. As Pops Cronenberg drifts more and more into mainstream features it’s a relief someone in the family is keeping up the tradition of squirming squeamishness.

 

Although Absentia doesn’t manage it’s budget quite as well as Antiviral it’s still manages a mouldering atmosphere of weirdness that lifts it above the average horror/thriller. After 7 years, a young wife is about to declare her missing husband dead and enlists her wayward sister to help tie up things only for the husband to crawl through the front door rambling incoherently about a close to home kidnapper. The script is a little thin at times and the production a bit low fi but the plot’s menace and weirdness are developed nicely as the character’s emotional churning soon blossoms into a sticky miasma of dread and confusion. A solid, interesting little chiller that’s worth a look and shows that Kickstarter funding might be a viable option for cash starved film makers.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Thursday, 28 February 2013

Fine Fabrications

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Tape sculpture genius. Via This Is Colossal.

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New 23 foot sculpture installed in New Orleans Museum of Art. Via Neatorama.

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Glass & wood waves from some Italian artisan. Via BBB

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Mining the ‘68 Seam

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Alan Bates puts in a powerful performance as an unjustly imprisoned Jewish handyman clinging to his principles in The Fixer directed by John Frankenheimer and loosely based on the infamous Beilis trial. Anti-Semitism was rife in Tsarist Russia, so when a boy turns up murdered it’s easy for the locals and authorities to blame a nearby Jew but they didn’t count on his tenacious refusal to confess despite their brutal, merciless treatment. Bates is ably supported by Dirk Bogarde and Ian Holm but they pale way into the background as Bates rounds out the razor sharp script out with a perfectly pitched portrayal of a man driven to despair and beyond.

 

Tony Richardson scorched the screen in ‘68 with his savagely satirical The Charge of the Light Brigade. Targeted squarely at the idiocy of the Victorian upper class twits behind the planning and execution of the Battle of Balaclava, the film follows a young officer, played by David Hemmings, who fails to talk sense into his superiors and suffers a miserable end along with the rest of the troops. Trevor Howard, Vanessa Redgrave and John Gielgud bring plenty of colour to the smaller roles and Richardson’s deft direction balances the tragic and comic beautifully. An underrated classic.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Paunchy & Punchy Paperbacks

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Don DeLillo’s The Names is a dense meditation on American culture, language and philosophy which masquerades as a thriller about a cult performing ritual murders in and around Greece. The narrative follows an itinerant political analyst who, along with some of his equally displaced fellow Americans, gets slowly drawn into understanding a series of bizarre murders. DeLillo’s prose, as I’ve come to expect, is quite stunning but I found his characters quite unlikeable (smug and myopic in a similar fashion to say Ian McEwan’s often are) and the myriad of musings and ruminations occasionally overwhelming. Excellent just not quite as refined as some of his other works.

 

Blindness by Portuguese writer Jose Saramago is an excoriating, rather harrowing novel about an epidemic of blindness which cripples society and reveals the baser sides of human nature. At the start of the unprecedented, seemingly incurable outbreak an ophthalmologist and his still sighted wife are quarantined in a dilapidated mental hospital but are soon joined by increasing numbers of sufferers. Largely abandoned by the panic stricken authorities things turn seriously ugly once supplies run dry and desperation sets in. Saramago’s crisp, clean prose gives these grim events an extra punch yet he somehow balances them with intermittent glimmers of humanity and some wonderfully poetic and poignant turns of phrase. Not for the faint of heart but heads and shoulders above most apocalyptic fiction.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Listen Up

rojacpastmarchank

Mid Seventies Vittles

Peckinpah's gritty and grubby thriller that's laden with Oates. Cronenberg's early slippery sexual horror. Schlesinger's suspenseful thriller with Olivier dominating.

Fatuous Infatuations

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Stanley Kubrick’s famed attention to detail provides fertile ground for film nuts and the doc Room 237 proscribes some of the unusual theories circling his horror masterpiece The Shining. The quite barmy contributors posit various interpretations around the film taking in Holocaust, the Indian genocide and my favourite the faking of the Moon landing footage. Despite it’s niche subject matter it’s quite an entertaining watch and though I don’t agree with any of the theories offered or even the microscopic apophenia that lurks at their core it does highlight some interesting production anomalies in Kubrick’s film.

More amusing and much more obsessive behaviour is to be found in Chasing Ghosts a low-fi documentary which charts the rise and fall of professional arcade game players in early 80’s America. A nice companion piece to The King of Kong, the film interviews a number of star players who featured in a Life magazine article from 1982 about their game specialities, their rise to stardom and life after the bubble burst. There’s some quality nerds on display and though the film isn’t shy about poking fun at them there’s an affectionate, nostalgic tone to this fascinating glimpse at a bygone era.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Brain Stuffs

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Interesting article trying to settle the concept of cognitive embodiment into a larger framework. Via Mindhacks.

 

A Princeton paper which kicks against the myth of the primacy of rationality. Via Science Daily.

 

Apparently a mild electrical current between the brows alleviates depression. Gizmo to hit the shops soon. Via Torygraph.

 

Another tech breakthrough with the development of a cheap, portable brain scanner that uses infra-red to monitor brain activity. Courtesy of New Scientist.

 

Mindhacks have a nice 48 min Psychology primer video.

 

Actual evidence for the uniqueness of our cortical structures is offered. Science Daily

 

A fine explanation of perceptual bias and it’s rather serious ramifications. Via Reddit.

 

Jump on the split-brain roundabout here. Via Mindhacks.

 

The flash lag illusion gets a couple of nice animations from some Japanese boffin, Hat tip to New Scientist.

Wayward Westerns

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The Great Silence is an atmospheric spaghetti western directed by Sergio Corbucci (of Django fame) in 1968. During a harsh winter a mute gunslinger squares off against a band of voracious bounty hunters who store their victims in snow drifts till spring. Though there’s not much to the script and it’s seems a little clich├ęd 40+ years later there’s a delicious cynicism and plenty of merciless violence to keep you entertained as the atmosphere builds to an explosive and suitably dark finale. Brilliant but probably not to everyone’s taste.

Sidney Poiter joins forces with James Garner to escort a bunch of soldiers through Indian infested territory in Duel at Diablo but the wheels soon fall off their wagon haha and a relentless siege ensues. It starts off fairly atypically, the usual technicolour 60’s western bedecked in thinly veiled social commentary but it soon reveals a surprisingly dark underbelly of violence once the journey gets underway. With a strong, sharp script and some talented performances this tense little gem packs a punch and is woefully neglected.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

American History X 2

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Oliver Stone’s latest offering is a 10 part documentary called The Untold History of the United States. Covering the self styled ‘Amurican Century’ Stone weaves a somewhat supercilious narrative in and around the significant events of his country’s ascendance into it’s current militaristic and materialistic hegemony. It’s competently put together and does a decent enough job I suppose but it’s hardly Untold, occasionally simplistic and progressively less factual. Hats off to Stone for giving it a bash though as it’s a bold and brave thing to attempt and you never know it might even spark some navel gazing in the average Yank viewer.

bowl

Ken Burns' is considerably more talented documentarian and his latest, elegiac documentary The Dust Bowl provides ample evidence. A decade of drought and the ravenous agricultural expansion throughout the prairie lands of 30’s America led to a devastating, quite unfathomable series of dust storms that frequently blotted out the sun, eclipsing towns and even cities and impoverishing a generation of Yank farmers. Over the 4 hours Burns slowly charts the devastation and desperation this tragedy caused relying heavily on some rather moving testimony from a the few remaining witnesses to colour his austere cinematography and archival sources.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Inspecting Space/Time

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A lovely infrared composite of the Great Nebula in Orion via APOD.

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Colourised gravitational map of the Moon courtesy of Nasa’s WISE orbitor via BoingBoing.

Wired have a gallery of 3D spacey animations, that’s the Rosette Nebula worked up by some dude J-P Metsavainio.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Fourplayers

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Set Adrift

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When a transatlantic liner sinks an Indian boy finds himself lost at sea with a bunch of his father’s not-so friendly zoo animals in Ang Lee’s whimsical adaptation of best seller Life of Pi. Our protagonist’s desperate struggle to survive his various misadventures is lusciously painted by Lee with some quite stunning CGi sequences, cinematography and his trademark confidently languid direction and buoying this lushness is an excellent performance from his young lead and two solid supporting turns. However despite (as far as I can remember) sticking quite closely to the events of the original novel it seems to have lost it’s edge allowing a slightly sickly sentiment into the script and subsequent performances or maybe it’s just leakage from the dazzling, knowing beauty of the film that seems to have softened some of the harshness out of this tale. Another classy Lee film that’s definitely a spectacle.

Kirk Douglas’ gurning and grinning performance as the archetypal man adrift, Ulysses, in the 1954 adaptation sets the tone for a lurid, cheap and cheerful retelling of Homer’s classic saga. The obvious highlights of Polyphemus, Circe & Tiresias are included in the adventure and though it’s budgetary restraints are always evident it’s swept along with some tidy direction and a bucket load of brio with Douglas accompanied by the similarly ‘large’ actor Antony Quinn. It’s good, frothy adventuring for the most part and even musters some menace for the final scene but it like, Life of Pi, lacks the emotional depth or boldness to address the darker aspects to the tale. Apparently this film kicked off the Italian Peplum industry that churned out innumerable sword and sandal epics and I can see why, old fashioned, quite good fun.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Fringe Squinting

Did beheading a goblin cause a Zimbabwean house to explode? No. Via Who Forted.

Medvedev taunts alien enthusiasts by telling journos that Russia are forcing the US to come clean about ET ‘contacts’.  Via Anomalist.

Some guy has been staring at Mars pics waaay too long and thinks he’s found statues, fossils blah blah. AboveTopSecret

Odd geologic erratic found in Russia deemed, perhaps unsurprisingly a UFO tooth-wheel what ever that is. Via Reddit

Huffpo have a summary of recent lunar anomalies.

Lengthy, kinda interesting but bonkers article mashing South American prehistory, pyramid grids and UFOS. Via Reddit.

A Bilderberg super-fan has made a pretty picture from their corporate/political interrelationships. Via Reddit.

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Monday, 28 January 2013

Loving Ain’t Easy

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Jerry Skolimowski’s 1970’s cult coming of age drama Deep End follows a young teenager into his first job as an attendant at a particularly grimy London bathhouse. Falling quickly under the spell of his attractive, whoring colleague, played by Jane Asher, the young man finds difficulty coping with the strains of his extracurricular responsibilities and his clumsy, stalkerish yearning. Reeking of the Sixties and directed with a lovely brooding atmosphere which overshadows the young actors shortcomings, things march inevitably towards a nicely er executed, quite stylish final act. A little dated I guess and a bit rough around the edges but it’s a period gem that still holds plenty of lustre.

 

Robert Aldrich’s adaptation of stage play The Killing of Sister George, released a year before  Skolimowski’s grubby tale, is a similar tale of fraught, uneven desires set against the backdrop of a swinging Sixties London. Beryl Reid stars as a TV soap actress with an acid tongue and drinking problem whose relationship with a young, seemingly simple woman is threatened by her belligerence and news that her beloved character is soon for the axe. Though it’s rightly lauded for it’s brave, ‘realistic’ depiction of lesbianism it’s should be remembered for the marvellous performances of Reid and York who filter the melodramatic, darkly humorous script with emotional nuance as well as histrionics.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Terrorising TV

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Tommy Lee Jones stars as a Vietnam vet who wigs out and takes control of Central Park in the ropey 80’s TV movie The Park is Mine. Using his military skills and his dead buddy’s war plan, Jones seals off the greenery for 48hrs to highlight the plight of neglected vets and faces off against the police and national guard desperate to oust him. Jones shouts his way through the script as if it was written in capitols and there’s a tonne of unintentionally amusing lines and though there’s some action to be had it’s mostly non-lethal in a tragically A-Team kind of way. Like a neutered Rambo, here it is anyway just in case you’re a fan of the so bad it’s good stuff.

The Town that Dreaded Sundown, on the other hand, is a grittier affair, mainly due to it’s docu-drama approach, based as it is on an actual series of murders in ‘40’s Texarkana. A masked man stalks the neighbourhood slaughtering a variety of locals and the police are stymied by a lack of clues and his erratic MO. With a titchy budget and little acting skill on display it’s quite surprising that it manages to muster a reasonably unsettling atmosphere but it does, maybe it’s the murky/cheap cinematography or the weird nature of the crimes themselves but it’s definitely worth a look. Getting a remake apparently.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Space iCandy

The hidden fires of the Flame Nebula*

The VISTA scope’s first release is a stunner, showing the Flame Nebula in some glory. Via ESO.

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Lovely Martian dunes, via Reddit.

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Milky Way looking good. Reddit again.

Featureless Features

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I quite enjoyed Andrew Dominik’s snail paced western The Assassination of Jesse James blah blah and even thought Pitt did a decent job but their recent reunion on comedy thriller Killing Them Softly is a surprisingly clumsy and cliched affair. When two idiots rob a mob run poker match Pitt’s fixer is called in to clean up the mess but his employers and employees only lead to frustration. Though nicely filmed It’s a right rambling mess with a unfounded somewhat smug reliance on the ‘characters’ to entertain but is hamstrung by a navel gazing script that allows the assembled talent too much room to overact, underplay and phone it in variously. Shiny bland garbage that even skimps on the violence. 

 

Director Martin McDonagh’s excellent In Bruges was a much needed hit for Colin Farrell but their reteam effort Seven Psychopaths is, like Killing Them, a lazy self satisfied dud that coasts by on ‘quirky’ characters and lacks the poignancy that underpinned their previous comedy thriller. Farrell plays a screenwriter struggling with his next script but finds inspiration, irritation and some jeopardy whilst in the company of his dog-napping, motor mouth friend, Sam Rockwell after he pinches a gangster’s mutt, throw Walken and Woody into the mix and an occasionally amusing, utterly predictable caper ensues. My expectations were probably too high going into this but still there’s little to recommend it. Half hearted hokum.