Thursday, 28 February 2013

Fine Fabrications


Tape sculpture genius. Via This Is Colossal.


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


Glass & wood waves from some Italian artisan. Via BBB

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Mining the ‘68 Seam


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


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


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

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


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


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


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.


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


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


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



Set Adrift

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.