this tripe

Film I've just seen this review on Lovefilm:
"Despite being a reasonably intelligent, open minded film fan, I am very angry that this film exists.

I condemn the film, the director, the actors and particularly anyone who says they 'enjoy' this tripe. The time spent watching this would have been better spent pulling out my own toenails."
Clearly they're taking the piss, but what cinematic masterpiece are they describing? Date Movie? Norbet? Little Man?

Last Year At Marienbad.

Angry? Amazing.


Karma Linda Cohen has spent the past few years carrying out a thousand acts of kindness to commemorate her father, a man she'd didn't really get on with. The work is documented on her blog and though a cynic might wonder if sometimes she's been exploited for her altruism, it's clear from the archives that she's proved the maxim that the more you help other people, the more you help yourself, since she's clearly loved and sometimes gets kickbacks. It's quite inspirational really.


Psychology I've seen this image in a few places, usually for purposes of ridicule.

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I've come to the conclusion that it's a sunny day and they're shading themselves. Either that or it's a natural cynicism directed at unofficial message. It can't be anything else can it? [via]


Psychology Melysa Schmitt realises that the peer groups who were hostile to her at high school still hate her now even though she's a mother too. She's forgotten what Woody Allen said: "I wouldn't want to be a member of any club that would want me as a member."

Clarification and corrections: My anonymous commenter notes quite rightly that it wasn't Woody Allen who said this but Groucho Marx. Woody quotes from Groucho during Annie Hall, hence the confusion, I had Woody's voice in my head. Here's the relevant speech:

"The – the other important joke for me is one that's, uh, usually attributed to Groucho Marx but I think it appears originally in Freud's Wit and its Relation to the Unconscious. And it goes like this – I'm paraphrasing: Uh... "I would never wanna belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member." That's the key joke of my adult life in terms of my relationships with women."

Here's a useful article about the deployment of the joke in different circumstances.


Film Twenty movies that destroy New York. Make sure you read through to the end.

a level of involvement

Film These two articles seem to be saying much the same thing so I thought it worth offering them together. I'm in the mood to make some gross generalisations. First, Joe Queenan in The Guardian describes his excitement at rediscovering the French New Wave and noting how newer films lack their invention:
"No one in the year 2009 will make a better film than Les Quatre Cents Coups (The 400 Blows), Hiroshima, Mon Amour, or Jules et Jim. No one will make a more daring film than Pierrot le Fou, Alphaville or Weekend. No one will make a more adventurous film than Paris Nous Appartient (Paris Belongs to Us) or a more influential film than A Bout de Souffle (Breathless). No one will make a more anachronistic, stranger film than Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg). And no one will make a nuttier film than La Chinoise or Le Gai Savoir (Joy of Learning). This was not a wave, it was a tsunami."
Next, Mack Rawden at Cinema Blend reveals his fears for what 3D cinema and its like means for, not just the future of cinema, but the audience and their appreciation:
"I hate most Michael Bay movies because they’re just shiny things. An hour and a half of visually stimulating nothingness followed by ten minute conversations consisting of, “Were you watching when that guy got impaled on the rusty pole?”. But most of you goddamn idiots, most of you goddamn members of Ritalin Generation love Michael Bay movies because, to you, visually stimulating nothingness is everything. Well, going to the movies shouldn’t be vapid, mindless entertainment. You should cry; you should laugh; you should fall in love with the characters; you should fall out of love with the characters; you should think; you should question; you should ponder; you should, flat out, be alive. I’ve never felt any of those things because glasses tricked me into thinking actors were stepping down off the screen. "
They're both essentially prophesising the death of cinema, or at least cinema that expects a particular level of involvement from the audience. You hear about this now and then when Hollywood gets a head of steam about something; first it was the popcorn film, then computer generated effects, now 3D. But wacked out innovation is still there. Charlie Kaufmann is still making films and though its true that some areas which used to be the innovation capitals have leapt towards the mainstream, there's some amazing stuff reaching out from the Middle and Far Easts (according to Sight and Sound magazine). Perhaps French style new waves are happening, just not in this neck of the woods.

Yet, in the past decade, the move towards empty experiences has definitely intensified. This week I've watched The Rock, Quantum of Solace and also Hitchcock's first two films, both silents, The Pleasure Garden and The Lodger. All are astounding pieces of cinema, yet both the Bay and Bond films are empty, vacuous things. They're not trying to be anything else; in both cases such incidentals as coherent story, ambiguity and characterisation take a back seat to thrills and there's nothing wrong with that really in this context and I enjoyed watching both of them (though Quantum feels like the second half Casino Royale rather than its own film but that's a discussion for another time). I just didn't love them.

I loved both of the Hitchcocks. Treated as curios these days, they were also made for the same commercial market, with the same intention as the other two, to get bums on seats. But for all that, even though he was yet to become the auteur, you can almost hear Hitchcock talking to you, despite the silence. They're chock full of moments were the director uses imagery to evoke sound elements and trusts that we're paying enough attention to notice what he's doing. He's saying "You can't hear these footsteps pacing upstairs, so I'm going to show you the pacing from below (having constructed a glass ceiling) and you get the idea." True, this was out of necessity, but its amazing idea and grants that you have a modicum of intelligence to see what he's doing.

Modern filmmakers have simply stopped trusting their audience. This isn't a question of directorial voice. This seems to be a trend across the board. Meh etc.

Suddenly I See.

TV This doesn't seem to have been noted elsewhere so:

Lance Parkin has been nominated for a Scribe award for his novel The Eyeless in the Best Young Adult Original category.

The Scribes are handed out by The International Association of Media Tie-In Writers for excellence in novels based on TV shows, movies, and games, which. I suppose, makes it the Booker prize of novelisations and shared world fiction. Lance is facing competition from a Primeval spin-off and something from the Disney Club.

I raved about the book in this review here.
It was without doubt one of the best Doctor Who stories of last year in any media.

production values

Film You've probably seen this already but, just in case ...

Beguiling, isn't it? And thankfully much less creepy than this:

Which gave me nightmares for decades, or at least until I was old enough to notice the production values.

eponymous hero

Games Video Games: A Cultural History - #6 The Spectre Of Socialism In Strider: "Strider supposes a future where, armed with incredible technology, the Soviet Union has conquered Eurasia in its entirety (not to be confused with English synth pop duo Erasure). The eponymous hero, Strider Hiryu, is a Japanese cyber ninja on a mission to infiltrate the evil Empire and battle his way to its core - a mysterious, all-powerful alien being called Grandmeister Meio (not to be confused with popular English DJ Simon Mayo)."

And Natalie Portman.

Film I spent some of this evening watching Paris J'Taime again on dvd and here is what I've decided is my favourite segment, at least in terms of technical achievement. Tom Twyker's contribution offers the intensity of a ninety-minute film in just under seven minutes. And Natalie Portman.

I've reviewed Paris J'taime here.

spoilery example

Elsewhere A fairly bland review of a pretty good Doctor Who novel. The problem with writing about these shorter format novels is that if you're not careful you can give away too much of the plot and most of them build their momentum from what few surprises can be crammed in. Spoilery example included in the comments here because I'm desperate to say something about it.

Prisoner of the Daleks.

Books When I returned to Doctor Who in the late nineties, one of the elements which surprised me was how well ‘documented’ and developed the Dalek chronology is. From the outside, the Doctor’s battles with the giant pepperpots look like a basic fight between good and evil, with the timelord upending whatever dastardly scheme they have on the boil only to have them pop up again somewhere down the line.

Yet, the Dalek story has merrily hovering along its own magnetised pathway outside of the main series almost as its own franchise, developing Terry Nation’s comic and annual stories from the 1960s into a complete set of eras and conflicts, with various bands of humans standing toe-to-toe with them in an unending struggle, in war after war. It’s the place were Nick Briggs sets his Big Finish Dalek war stories and Absolom Daak plies his trade.

The new series has run stark naked away from all of this, time wars effectively reseting continuity and simplifying it for new viewers, with talk of time locks and unseen battles and the Dalek race being all but wiped out at the close of each story. Yet, there’s still room for an anomaly and so here’s Trevor Baxendale’s Prisoner of the Daleks, which says actually I miss the idea of the Dalek race stretching across the galaxy and not simply turning up on mass for one invasion at a time and I’d quite like to see how the Tenth Doctor handles being plunged into this Dalek Empire, in which the most he can do is be victorious in a single skirmish. If I was a child whose only experience of the franchise is the new series, picking this book up would both confuse and delight me as I’d wonder what I’d been missing; as an adult it reminds you of a delightful time when the Daleks had the capacity to frighten and fascinate you.

A companionless Tenth Doctor, the TARDIS having skipped a time track (explaining how he ends up in the old continuity), lands on a deserted planet which used to be a staging post for prospective colonists. Through the usual series of mishaps and misunderstandings he falls in with some visiting bounty hunters just as the Daleks enter their end of space and after capturing one of them, the timelord realises that his ultimate foe has a huge wonking great plan that could see them wiping out the human race and whoever else they feel like. As ever with these shorter novels, to reveal any more than that would effectively render reading the thing pointless, but needless to say (since it’s in the title) the Doctor is eventually captured and taken into the core of the Dalek fleet were he awaits torture at the hands of the chilling Dalek X, the pepperpot equivalent of 24’s Jack Bauer. Brrr.

Essentially, Prisoner of the Daleks has everything you'd want from an old school Dalek story, crackpot plan to take over the universe, millions of the buggers flying through the air, bit of slavery, Nazi allusions, a moment where the Doctor realises that he's made a terrible mistake, exterminations, sacrifices and no Davros. In his acknowledgements, Baxendale calls the Daleks ‘the ultimate Doctor Who toy’ and he’s clearly in his element exploring their mythology, picking and choosing from Terry Nation’s conception onwards, so though the new design is on the cover and in some of his words, he’s actually envisaging the Daleks from the TV21 comics with the anti-gravity platforms and a design for every application, be it breaking through a wall or investigating the intricacies of TARDIS.

They’re also the flavour of Dalek which is able to hold proper conversations with one another, or in one case philosophical discussion with the Doctor and best of all BBC Books have printed all of their dialogue in their classic zig-zaggy font, the one which usually crops up in comic books. I’ve not seen that done in a novel before and it really fills in some of the menace lost through not actually being able to hear the things. As your eyes glance around these bits of text, bolder than whatever else is on the page, you can almost hear Nick Briggs’s ring modulator grating away. It also has that rare sense of occasion which comes from smacking old and new continuity together to see what happens. I'd love it if the new series were brave enough to try something like this on television; would it be so wrong for the Doctor to bump into an old style Dalek or Cyberman and having some fun explaining away the incongruity?

The Doctor’s on good form, happy to flesh out any relevant bits of continuity, masking a genuine anger at seeing his foe in such a strong position with a mix of bluff and humour and offers a surprising reaction during a particularly nasty sequence with the captured Dalek were the crew all break out into a lovely shade of grey (if you see what I mean). There's also an interesting surprise related to the figure whom you're expecting to become the companion which blows all expectations. I'd be particular excited if the television version was brave enough to do something like that and it's one of the ideas which shows that Baxendale has thought about what he's trying to achieve and not simply trotting out the usual tropes.

With the exception of the human characters. Perhaps Baxendale had in mind the crew of the Liberator, Red Dwarf or Serenity, but, probably because of the needs of the story, they’re sadly mostly just the kinds of generic types that usually populate Doctor Who stories, a square-jawed captain, the vet, the cute girl, the cannon fodder (see The Impossible Planet and 42) and the surprise guest (you’ll see) that don’t tend to work on the page because the actors voice or manner aren’t there to flesh things out. A prime example is Cuttin’ Edge. I think he’s supposed to be a homage to Cat from Red Dwarf all ‘mans’, jokes about his fashion sense and slang, but he’s not especially funny (assuming he's supposed to be the comic relief) and is just the stereotype that would be injected into a story in the late 80s in an attempt to be ‘with it’ and missing the mark by several hundred rels. Couldn't we have had a Tarrant instead?

you enjoy how bad they are

TV Charlie Brooker interviewed by Mof Gimmers about his new show Newswipe which starts this evening: "When you're negative it's usually a result of disappointment. Sometimes things can be bad and you enjoy how bad they are... everyone does that... I mean, I've never thought of myself as a critic, more a writer who is trying to be entertaining... and when I'm doing Screenwipe or Screen Burn, my subject just happens to be television. What you're doing, when you're slagging something off, you're doing the equivalent of sitting there watching something with a mate and turning 'round and saying "They might as well call this Coronation Shit, hur hur hur." It's effectively that. If it was that bad, you wouldn't watch it at all."

the sandwich is created

Food Due to a string of incidents which included some broken headphones (don’t ask) and getting on the wrong bus (again, don’t), I ended up in Woolton yesterday at about lunchtime. There are a good few food choices in the village of the kind you tend to find in any village even if like Woolton it’s in the middle of suburbia (including a Sainsburys). For ages, I’ve walked straight past a small white shop near the bus stop, but for some reason yesterday I was tempted inside.

It’s quite small, about the size of an average sandwich shop, with terracotta floor and price lists on the wall. Except instead of tubs of salad and coleslaw, there is a display cabinet filled with cheese. There are dozens of varieties, most of which I’ve never heard of, at least in this style (is that the right word?). So there's Cheshire, but it's Smoked Cheshire. Cheddars combined with all kinds of flavours and French cheeses with a multi-coloured array of mold and fruit running through them.

This is the Liverpool Cheese Company.

I wander past, to the back of the shop. The lady behind the counter looks up expectantly. I ask her if they do sandwiches. They do. I ask how much, £2.50. Do they have a menu? They do not. I can have whichever cheese I’d like on a baguette. Any of them? Yes. My mouth waters. I drifted back up the shop and look again at the selection. As ever when faced with a hundred choices, I can’t select one. Some people in this situation probably go with what they know. I always try to go with something I don’t.

Cornish yarg then.

I watch the tall man whose joined us in the shop behind the counter slice some large pieces off the truckle to put on the sandwich. Next they want to know what kind of baguette I’d like. Granary. Chutney? I ask them for a recommendation and after a short conversation (which resembles the one about Ice Cream flavours in the film City Slickers) they decide that sweet onion would complement the taste of the yarg. They’ve their backs to me as the sandwich is created but before long I see the baguette.

It looks the way these things only ever seems to in photography or films with giant lettuce leaves, large slices of tomato and the cheese just too big to fit between the two pieces of bread. I pick something up from a sale basket -- ale cheddar sealed in wax. They ring it up and put the sandwich in a brown paper bag, the top of the sandwich peaking out, enticing me with what looks like a smile. I pay the money, amazed already at the value, and leave.

I find a bench somewhere to sit and eat the thing. After one bite, I’m in rapture. The yarg is rather like Lancashire except, before it matures, it’s wrapped in nettles to create a rind, and add flavour. The name comes from the reversal of the surname of the Grays, the couple that gave the recipe to the Pengreen dairy were the main production happens these days. None of which I’m aware of, or care about, as its sweet creaminess merges with the taste of the onion and the crispiness of the bread and lettuce in my mouth.

I’d brought a book to read just in case I did stop for lunch somewhere but that remained in my back as I concentrated on enjoying this experience instead, not needing something to keep my mind off the slight bit of disappointment that comes with shop bought sandwiches because you know that no love has gone into the manufacture. This sandwich feels like an act of love, so much so that when I’d finished I trotted back to the shop, put my head around the door and said: “Can I just say that was one of the nicest sandwiches I’ve ever tasted.” Because it was.

by way of illustration

Below is my contribution to Ada Lovelace Day.

Despite receiving an Oscar for her work, one of the most unsung women in film who has used technology in her work is film editor Thelma Schoonmaker. Like many filmmakers, she’s not a household name, despite having worked on a raft of movies that are regularly selected for top ten lists and themselves have gained best picture nominations. She’s unsung in as much as when the public talk about loving these films they never say it’s because they’re a Schoonmaker fan.

She’s Martin Scorsese’s editor.

Film directors tend to work with the same editors over and over again. There are various reasons: because they’re very skilled and flexible, they’re able to interpret what the director wants even if the director isn’t even sure what that is and I’ve heard its simply because they can stand to be in the same room together across the long months between the end of principle photography and the locking of the film ready for release, shaping the material, willing to be in the trenches when the studio says their masterpiece is half an hour too long and they have to excise a sub-plot.

So when I say that she’s Martin Scorsese’s editor, it’s because since Raging Bull, at least in feature films, he hasn’t worked with anyone else. They met at film school and she helped him to complete his student films and for over thirty-fives they’ve been together even through the lean years of the mid-80s when Scorsese couldn’t get a project off the ground. He even introduced to her to her husband, the legendary director Michael Powell. I don’t think that you can specifically describe a Scorsese film without mentioning an idea she must have contributed.

Whenever someone thinks of a Scorsese film, the style of it, a large percentage of it is the editing, the speeding and slowing of the shutter speed, the pacey cutting and also know when a scene needs space to breath, to emphasise the performances and script over everything else, all of the things that are an editor’s job to make happen and work. True, the extended tracking shot in Goodfellas as a job of cinematography, but the placement of the thing so that it structurally works within the body of the film and the place to cut in and out of the scene is (as far as we can tell) all Schoonmaker.

Here’s a useful quote from her Wikipedia biography. She says: "You get to contribute so significantly in the editing room because you shape the movie and the performances […] You help the director bring all the hard work of those who made the film to fruition. You give their work rhythm and pace and sometimes adjust the structure to make the film work ﷓- to make it start to flow up there on the screen. And then it's very rewarding after a year's work to see people react to what you've done in the theater."

Ever the contrarian, my favourite film directed by Scorsese is Life Lessons, his contribution to the portmantau New York Stories. It’s about an artist played by Nick Nolte and his fiery love affair with his assistant Rosanna Arquette. Across its half hour there are many scenes of Nolte at work, standing dwarfed by a giant canvas, brush in hand looking for motivation. Each offers an expression of his inner turmoil, from confusion over her return to his life, through inspiration, lust and anger.

They’re some of the best montage sequences I’ve seen on film of an artist working, as Schoonmaker cuts from Nolte’s hairy features, to the pallet to the canvas, demonstrating the pandemonium that this artist must engender in order to produce his best work. His brush strokes are chaotic and haphazard and so is the editing, a mess of close-ups and midshots slowly becoming more focus as the results are revealed, also keeping time with the emotions expressed by the music that fills his studio from Procal Harem to Bob Dylan. The later bio-pic Pollock has similar scenes, and these must has owed a debt to Life Lessons, as Ed Harris sprawled across the floor with his tube of paint.

The first minutes of Life Lessons, by way of illustration:

As for her attitude to technology? Another quote, this time from the Pinewood Dialogues: "And now with digital editing, one of the problems is that we’re working on a rather degraded image. They have to compress the information so that we can get a lot of information into the towers that store our footage, and we’re not always looking at the best possible image. I remember after Casino, I was looking at the film on a flatbed—it was a finished print—and I saw something in De Niro’s eyes that I’d never seen before. And I was very sad about that. It didn’t mean I would’ve edited it differently, but I was upset that I wasn’t seeing it."

the transfer

Film This is at present US only, but if it's successful, hopefully a region 2 version will be forthcoming. Warner Brothers are making their back catalogue available on dvd, on demand. Much of this material is from old Hollywood and hasn't been seen since it was released theatrically years ago. All of the titles in the shop have preview clips so that you can get an idea of what the transfer is like.


TV Snopes shoots down one of the great urban myths of television: That the cast of M*A*S*H did not learn of Col. Blake's death until they were actually filming the scene in which it was announced. A gut-wrenching way to end that season and one of those defining moments which demonstrated that sitcom needn't be light a fluffy, with a happy ending and a reset switch.


Music? Stock Aitken Waterman Gold -- Tanya Jones at Noise To Signal offers a survey of the back catalogue using their 2005 compilation as a guide. Yes, indeed, this what I was listening to in the 80s instead of The Smiths. I've since tried to make up for this, though as a friend I met in HMV said as I was flicking through the racks 'So you're buying it now having not lived it' which was a bit cruel of him if not entirely untrue. The apogee was probably Mel & Kim's Respectable. The nadir is Cliff. I didn't know Mandy Smith originally recorded Got To Be Certain. I once saw Sonia in Tesco. She was shopping and giggling to herself. A lot.


Advertising Audrey Tautou and Jean-Pierre Jeunet the director who arguably made her internationally famous have reteamed for the new Chanel No. 5 commercial which is replacing the rather lush Nicole Kidman/Baz Luhrmann concoction which has been knocking around for a few years (and annoys the hell out of some people -- though I don't think Kidman's looked lovelier). It riffs on Amelie's middle act of missed encounters this time on the Orient Express as it travels between Paris and Instanbul. The full story is at fashionologie along with release dates.

wrong direction

Film International Herald Tribune reports of the Japanese remake of one of my favourite films, Sideways:
"The two male characters (Michio and Daisuke instead of Miles and Jack) now head from Los Angeles to Napa Valley, instead of traipsing up to Santa Barbara. While wine sales are on the rise in Japan — thanks in part to the comic-book sensation "Kami no Shizuku," or "The Drops of God," about a heroic odyssey to find the best wines in the world — a lesser-known wine region like Santa Barbara would still resonate little with audiences. And heading to Napa allowed the filmmakers to weave in some local landmarks. "You can't do a road trip in California without going over the Golden Gate Bridge," said Cellin Gluck, the new film's director."
I wonder if an even more interesting approach would have been to make one of the characters -- the one who's a wine buff -- a fan of the original film and have them go off and try and recreate the same trip but they end up going in the wrong direction.