rfbooth.com :: blog archives

Moments in time, preserved to embarrass me later.

10-8-2005 (archived)

Genre quiz: this film features an actor whose surname is Foxx and a character called Captain Cummings, and is based around a piece of hardware called the “Extreme Deep Invader”. Porn, right?

Featuring the most ludicrously named fighter plane ever, “Stealth” is pretty bad but also pretty. The closest we get to porn is Jessica Biel in various amounts of disarray, which let's face it could be a lot worse, though the production values - gorgeous filming, fast pace, ridiculous plot that's just an excuse for action sequences - do hark back to a certain type of 80s product. Geeks of a certain type may be amused that the Mysterious Scrolling Computer Gibberish is all LaTeX, which as far as I know is a first. That doesn't make up for the slightly disappointing special effects; the fire and explosions are unconvincing - I think the light thrown off isn't right - and there are a lot of fires and explosions. It's also badly let down by most of the cast - Foxx and Shepard are on automatic, and Biel's charisma doesn't quite make up for Lucas's flatness. As a sort of poor man's McConaughey he does OK, but this sort of picture is all about effects and lead magnetism, and there just isn't enough. There are plenty of worse ways to pass a couple of hours, but I wouldn't search it out unless you're a Biel collector.

12-8-2005 (archived)

There's no denying that it's a bit too long, and I'm not sure how well it works as romantic, but “Wedding Crashers” pretty much gets the comedy part right. Vince Vaughn does fairly well in a very typical role, and Owen Wilson is charm personified as usual. Most of the humour's fairly predictable, but it is funny throughout, and in a few places very funny indeed. Also, gratuitous toplessness features surprisingly heavily. Sadly, Will Farrell is still the worst actor currently getting billed highly, but at least he's not in it for long.

16-8-2005 (archived)

I'm pretty certain that, when Rob Zombie finished “The Devil's Rejects”, he had made exactly the movie he wanted to. Yes, much of the dialogue is tremendously, ridiculously overheated. Yes, much of the acting could be honey-roasted and made into sandwiches (though Bill Moseley and Sheri Zombie as our central loveable psychopaths are actually very good). Yes, it's a sadistic gorefest, ranging freely between funny and unpleasant with occasional lurches to genuine creepiness. Yes, the good guys are at least as horrible as the bad. And you know that's just what Zombie intended; this is old-school, visceral, sick-comic horror, completely without conventionally redeeming features, and cleverer and much more watchable than most of the originals. Not for most tastes, but if this is your sort of thing, it's as good as it gets.

His next movie is to be called “The Haunted World of El Superbeasto”. This is a man to watch.

17-8-2005 (archived)

This is absolutely brilliant. Island-living shred guitar hippy Mr Fastfinger solos, jams, takes on an accordian-playing demon, and frees the dwarfs. Genius.

19-8-2005 (archived)

I like to use interesting, memorable and if possible topical situations when I'm teaching, and I think I have a new favourite for the Prosecutor's Fallacy. Let us suppose that, for an innocent person (like you) on a tube train, the chances that a policeman, if he caught sight of you, would think you are a suicide bomber and shoot you in the head are one in a million. Pretty good odds, right?

Not so good, actually. In fact, under a reasonable-seeming model, anybody he did kill would be overwhelmingly likely to turn out to be an ordinary person just like you. Assuming that the police want as few ordinary people as possible to die for each suicide bomber dead, they would actually be much better off waiting to see if people blow themselves up than shooting them. My explanation is here.

22-8-2005 (archived)

They told me that “The Island” was going to be terrible, and it really wasn't. Yes, jwz, it was stupid. Very stupid. The plot had more holes in than, well, the person I saw it with. Yes, Potamus, there was a great deal of really really obvious product placement. Yes, various broadsheet reviewers, it was a Michael Bay movie, and so there was less of the dialogue-driven introspection and more fast, shiny stuff blowing up.

But Ebert got it dead right, as usual; this is a really good, fun movie, despite all those problems. It works as a little if-this-goes-on SF picture, handled with surprising delicacy (and with some really gorgeous, sick-funny touches, most notably the little medical bug-robots crawling into McGregor's eyes and passing in his urine). Then the second half works as exactly the sort of adrenaline-driven shit-go-boom picture you expect from Bay. McGregor and Johansson are strong as the innocents waking, and the film skates well enough over the plot holes for us not to really care too much about them (even the frankly ludicrous and unnecessary ESP suggestions late in the movie, without which it would actually make more sense than it did). It moves along incredibly well; when we got out and realised it had been a quarter over two hours, we were genuinely surprised. It feels a lot shorter. Yes, it's a crass, commercial, noisy, stupid popcorn movie, and it's a bloody good one.

24-8-2005 (archived)

Crash” is a brilliantly executed multiple-thread and -viewpoint story about race and prejudice, all told through and around the Los Angeles highways. Only one character here is thoroughly sympathetic, and many are downright unpleasant, but the acting and scripting are absolutely gripping. There have been so many very strong movies this year that this one seems less special, but it's a remarkably good, and accessible, picture: arthouse for the multiplex, driven by the script and the performances, thought-provoking and convincing. Melting pot, indeed.

27-8-2005 (archived)

Since I've three films from last week still to write about and there are four films I want to see out this weekend, it's time to catch up.

Tuesday's movie was “Unleashed”, the last of the week's films on our must-see list and one we've been looking forward to since the first sighting of the magnificent, heavy-metal-piano-soundtrack trailer. Jet Li is a revelation as Danny the attack-dog. The action scenes are no surprise, utterly brilliant, balletic and brutal, as good as I've seen from him, but the quality of his acting as Danny gradually discovers human life, through kindness and especially music, certainly is. Hoskins balances him as the unashamedly unpleasant Bart. Besson's trademark punk-SF style comes through in a few places, notably the fight-club scenes, and the Stranger who joins Li for the main course of the staggering climactic fight echoes both fight-movie tradition and Besson's frequent use of the violent, silent mystic. Yes, looked at from arm's length it's a fingertip stretch for belief, but this is not an arm's length film. Brilliant, moving, and powerful.

Since my companion is not particularly interested in baseball or Drew “Face on sideways” Barrymore, I saw “The Perfect Catch” on my own. Since I am, I was always likely to find it at least diverting. Like the Hornby novel, Fever Pitch (a title the film retained outside Britain), knowing and understanding the sport isn't really relevant to the film, which about Hornby's usual early theme of male obsession and female incomprehension. Barrymore is as good as ever, Fallon is fine, and the astonishing, fairytale end to the '04 Red Sox season is a great background to the story. The lead here is probably a more accessible character than in the original, but then baseball seems to me a more accessible, and certainly more mixed, culture than English football, and that helps to make this a better movie. Enjoyable but certainly not perfect, this is probably the romantic comedy of the year so far, but then it's had almost no competition.

We saw “Herbie: Fully Loaded” more in the spirit of hope than anticipation, but that spirit was rewarded. After a really terrible first five minutes, the rest of the film is enjoyable if really, cornily stupid, in a little-kid way. This is the kind of film you can probably only enjoy if you have either an age in single figures or free tickets, and since we manage at least one of those and, failing the other, found Lohan not as badly reduced as we feared, there are plenty of worse ways to spend an evening. This one just about sneaked onto the list; we saw it the night before next week's crop appeared, and it's certainly not one to search out, but if you find yourself slated to accompany a child, it is not as desperate as the first few minutes will seem.

29-8-2005 (archived)

I get more interested in sport (well, games) in the summer; I have more time, there are baseball and cricket to be had, and there's a fortnight or so when the Great God Football isn't blocking all other games out of public discussion (even I know who the top four in the league will be at the end of next year, and I loathe football, so what's to discuss?). Even throughout this astonishing season for English cricket, with far the most dramatic and entertaining test series in my memory - and one we look likely to win - the non-sports discussion forums I read have had several threads about the few football matches there've been, and not one on cricket. It's no wonder the Australians have been so dominant for so very long.

By and large, often very large, I prefer American sports to their Empire-distributed rivals. Baseball is a better day-in day-out game than one-day cricket, in my book, and test matches are on such a different scale one can hardly compare. Football US style is as physical, more cerebral, and (if you understand it) much more entertaining than either code of rugby at a club level, though the very best international matches sometimes get close. Basketball and association football are the less-contact quick-passing games, and I enjoy the first as much as I dislike the second. When espousing these views I've occasionally had replies like “well, at least our sports aren't engineered for frequent, convenient advertisement breaks”, most recently just a couple of days ago, and it got me thinking about commercialism and these great, beloved team sports.

Let's answer the specific charge first. In baseball you can take a short break every half-inning, over nine. In basketball you can take breaks on the quarters, and at time-outs (including the two-minute warning); gridiron is the same. That's certainly more than football or rugby, but not even close to the advertising potential of cricket: you can break after every wicket, with lots of breaks through lunch and tea, longer breaks for drinks, and short breaks after each over (though in practice Channel Four restrict themselves to every other). So, cricket must be really cunningly engineered for advertising, then. Well, no, and neither are these others; they are, basically, just the way the game is played. Yes, there have been minor changes, but then football has had its share of innovations (golden goals, penalty shootouts, longer half-times) to please advertisers and schedulers, and rugby league even shifted its season around to try to compete better for attention.

It all got me thinking about commercial exploitation of sports; the tacit and often explicit accusation is that American sport is about money, not sport, and (more to the point) is so to a greater extent than our own. This is an astonishing claim to make. Football, here, has a massive advantage in mindshare over all other sports, and has become a game driven almost entirely by money, in which a handful of clubs have all the best players - so many that a great many excellent footballers, who would be leaders at other top division clubs, can't get a game. (That use of “top division” reminds me of the even more ludicrous decision to call the third division down the first. Have these people no shame?) In contrast, all the American sports have draft systems designed to try to discourage entrenched strength and weakness as players come in and retire, and both gridiron and basketball have carefully-engineered salary caps to prevent the richest teams buying up all the best players. Some teams have managed to stay strong for a very very long time, but virtually nobody has been bad for ever. Then there's ticket pricing; American football has virtually the same average ticket price as Premiership football (though you do get twice as long for your money); it would doubtless be less, but the season's so short (just eight home games in the NFL). Baseball, with many more home games, is far cheaper. Americans also hardly ever change uniform design, unlike the premiership trend of having three different strips and changing at least one per season.

And then I realised how it is soccer gets around that inconvenient lack of advert breaks. You can start by naming the competition after its sponsor, though of course you'll have to change it every few years, but the major difference is turning the players themselves into walking billboards. If you want to recognise a strip, you need to be able to remember which sponsor corresponds to which team. It simply doesn't happen in the States; the idea of plastering advertisements for over-the-counter medicine or snack foods all over the Yankees uniforms would be inconceivable. Cricket is in the same boat: England are covered in telephone adverts, the Australians are just as bad, and even the bloody umpires have adverts on their backs. It's tacky, it's horrible, and if the Americans won't sink that low I don't see why we should.

31-8-2005 (archived)

The Dukes of Hazzard” is a medium-clumsy version of the silly TV show people of my generation remember from their childhood. Various things have been altered. Uncle Jesse is less overtly Christian, and still running moonshine. Bo Duke is completely insane. The cops are much, much nastier, not so much incompetent as evil. But the General Lee is much the same as ever, so that's OK.

Sadly, Jessica Simpson as Daisy suffers from the same problems as, well, Simpson as anything: while she looks great in still photos, as soon as you see her moving or “acting” it becomes clear that she needs to take her boots off to count to twenty, and that really breaks the spell for me. Hey ho. Comfortably the best part of the film is the out-take sequence at the end, confirming that they basically did all the car stunts by just trying them over and over again until a car survived, and that Knoxville still likes to torment his co-stars. It's not too hard to sit through the film to get to it, as long as you disengage your brain; it's harmless, stupid, and moderately diverting. Just like the original, really.