rfbooth.com :: blog archives

Moments in time, preserved to embarrass me later.

30-1-2006 (archived)

So I was in Manchester this weekend, as it turns out was Ian, and we each independently saw these in Picadilly Gardens. Later research revealed that they'd been seen there as early as November last; either I've persistently failed to see them or, as apparently is usual, they were taken away for emptying and cleaning in the daylight hours I'm usually in that part of town.

It probably tells you something about some of the abstract sculpture I shared the old UMIST campus with for a decade (none of which I can find good pictures of on the web in the two minutes I'm prepared to spend on it, sadly; next time I'm there I'll try to shoot some) that my thought process on seeing it was “that's a pretty unfortunate piece of art, somebody'll piss in that before you can... oh.”

I am aware that the recent epidemic of either forgetting to set the correct date on articles before posting them or indeed to post them altogether until some time after written is reaching truly irritating proportions. This nuisance will cease just as soon as I get a new, more effective brain.

1-2-2006 (archived)

A Cock and Bull Story” is a sort of attempt to film the legendarily unfilmable Tristram Shandy. Rather than taking Adaptation's tack and showing us the painful scriptwriting process, here the film is actually a fiction about an attempt to film the novel. It is very funny, using Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon to the full, and raises again the question of why Coogan seems to primarily play the same, fragile-egoed self-centred pompous and thoroughly unlikeable character, here as himself. Surely if he were really like this, which would be the obvious suspicion, he wouldn't take on such roles.

This is a film of ideas, or at least of idea, and simultaneously a successful comedy. I would recommend it, but it's not easy to find. I will recommend the one of the staff at my local cinema: after turning us away from the (sold out) showing we went to, the last one we had any chance of attending because of scheduling, he then ran after us half-way down the street when two tickets were returned to get us into the film. Of course one could criticise scheduling a film that is selling out once per day only, in mid-afternoon, but that's somebody else's fault.

3-2-2006 (archived)

I find it frankly mystifying that I can, for example, pop down to the gym and squat 330lbs for reps without a hint of trouble, but some combination of slipping in the bathroom last night and tripping slightly on a schoolbag this morning have left me with a swollen knee with a restricted range of motion. Still, at least it doesn't hurt, and if experience is any guide it'll be ok again by next week. But I wanted to lift tonight, dammit.

Knees are bastards.

7-2-2006 (archived)

The warnings attached to the 12A certificate for “Walk the Line” mention varies qualities that might trouble the easily-troubled, but strangely omit to mention that the film contains a great deal of country music - the quality that has put of those of my acquaintance who've been put off. Me, I have nothing against country music, especially Johnny Cash's, so I was ready to enjoy what turned out to be a very good film lifted to near-brilliance by Joaquim Phoenix as Cash and Reece Witherspoon as Carter, each singing all their character's vocals. Neither would be a bad fit for an Oscar this year, though Phoenix would not be my first choice.

Many reviewers have noticed what is perhaps the his most impressive scene, the audition for Sun Records; he enters as a thoroughly inadequate gospel singer, but when told to play a song of his own he starts uncomfortably, still in gospel mode, but accelerates through and takes control of his voice and his music for the first time. At the end of the audition he is Johnny Cash, compelling and thrilling. It is a beautiful love story, a story of stupidity, redemption, and family tension, and a superbly acted film. If you can tolerate country even a little bit, see it.

9-2-2006 (archived)

Derailed” and “Rumour has it” are both obviously slightly handicapped by the presence of Jennifer Aniston, who is decorative enough but really isn't much of an actress. The latter is a slight enough romcom that I completely forgot to review it until I came to look back on what I'd written about Aniston and noticed I hadn't; time-passing but ultimately pointless, and she is particularly one-note in it. The most amusing thing was probably, when “Mrs Robinson” started up on the soundtrack, how few people in the theatre got the joke. Shirley MacLaine was good value, of course.

Derailed, on the other hand, was really rather good. Aniston's strength is that she can be very attractive in a slightly unusual, un-slutty way, and her performance here is really not half bad. Clive Owen is, of course, magnificent, as he has been for pretty much his whole career, and continues to be an utterly magnetic presence on screen. Add to that Vincent Cassel as, hurrah, a thoroughly unpleasant Frenchman, a plot that twists in ways that we at least didn't see coming, and enough visceral grip to twist you up inside as you watch it and you have a really good, if silly, old-fashioned thriller with a cathartic ending. Not intellectual, at all, but highly recommended.

11-2-2006 (archived)

North Country” is yet another of the recent string of movies so good they're almost annoying. Charlize Theron seems to alternate between rent-paying shiny movies in which all she's required to do is put her makeup on carefully and serious films in which her tremendous acting ability is called upon, and this is one of the latter (despite the implausibility of the court scenes and their rather cheesy ending). Nonetheless, it is a tremendously effective piece of work, evoking just about every emotion in the book in the process of retelling a story that, while rather less photogenic, is true and staggeringly recent - it is as hard for me to imagine that women were so treated in America in 1989 as to, well, realise that they couldn't vote in Switzerland until 1971. The world is worse than I imagine.

13-2-2006 (archived)

In a much-reported story, some maths teachers believe that the changes made to make A level maths “more accessible” and “popular” amount to dumbing down, and the rest are lying. The problem is that if A levels are going to have less content and one goes against this trend, it will be sat by fewer and fewer pupils. Still, it's a concern.

It is a question not of opinion but of fact that the applied content of A level maths has dropped from three modules to two out of six, with the pure content identical but spread over an extra module; not only that, but the module that is dropped will essentially always be a more demanding and rewarding level 2 module. In other words, there is (not debatably) less in it, and the bits lost are some of the best bits. Hey ho.

I'm intrigued as to how the phrase “positive move in terms of helping all students to succeed” can be taken as anything other than an admission of making it significantly easier? Then again, it has never been clear to me how one could massively increase the proportions taking particular exams, all the while increasing the proportions of those getting top grades, and maintain standards. Even if you could do so by better teaching, which claim is ludicrous even when not studied in the light thrown by actual exam papers, examinations are intended first and foremost as a measure of intellectual ability in a particular discipline. If that discipline is universally better taught, then the exam must be made harder to compensate. But, of course, neither of these things is happening. Students are already arriving at university massively underprepared - in other words, very nearly illiterate and innumerate. I've moved from an elite university to a top school, and I'm concerned enough; I can barely imagine what must be going on further down the pecking order.

I'm off to sit in my blanket in the corner reminiscing about the war now. As you were.

15-2-2006 (archived)

I am certain, positive, sure I typed the command to publish after I wrote the last piece on Monday. And yet it never got published. Now, I'm sure that sometimes I forget to “make publish”, but I've been making a special effort recently.

Either I am stupider than I think, or Something Odd is happening. Either way, I shall start checking things have updated on the actual site. I go to considerable lengths to write this thing regularly, which is particularly annoying if it then only gets out to y'all irregularly. Arse.

18-2-2006 (archived)

Recently we've had an awful lot of comic adaptations, and I rather like that since there's usually some pretty interesting backstory and visuals, even if the movie then proceeds to blow all the interesting bits in the interests of identikit pap. “Aeon Flux” is slightly different, in that it's an adaptation of a cartoon - one that was originally one of those MTV dialogueless extended pieces that served as station idents back in the early 90s when the station was almost impossibly cool and aspired, rather successfully, to be the cutting edge of western youth art. It was eventually promoted to dialogue-included status and was famously weird, even by MTV standards, and lingeringly violent. I knew little about the cartoon, though I have vivid memories of the MTV of the period; apparently this run-down is pretty accurate.

The movie is actually not as far, in some ways, from that vision as you might think. There isn't much to the plot, though there's more to it than I'd originally thought, and there are a great many visual coolnesses, notably the intelligent explosive metal marbles and the aggressive grass, both of which you may have seen trailed. There are also many weirdnesses, including the above but considerably increased by the likes of pills taken to commune with revolutionary colleagues on some sort of astral plane, and then there is the rather lingering physicality of it all; lots of close-ups of eyes (and Theron's eye colour changing regularly), a fair amount of wince-inducing pain and some really rather gory moments, particularly towards the end.

The reviews have been scathing, and on this early showing apart from the three of us the rest of the tiny crowd was exclusively fat, middle-aged men with looks of desperation (fuck off, I'm only thirty). Certainly the fact that this seems to have been made at least in part as a film about Charlize Theron's bottom may be its best bet for box office at this point, though her outfitting is probably the most ridiculous part of the movie; in an early scene in which she and another rebel meet to exchange a message, they are not only by far the sexiest but also the only even vaguely goth-looking people in the whole sequence, to top which ludicrous attempt at inconspicuousness she breaks into an installation, at night, in head-to-toe white.

It is visually inventive and gorgeous, not just because of Theron though she certainly doesn't hurt, and while it's not by any means a good movie we enjoyed it immensely. Stupid, beautiful fun.

21-2-2006 (archived)

Every so often I like to see a serious movie, and “Good night, and good luck” is magnificently, brilliantly serious. A historical drama about CBS television journalist Ed Murrow's struggle with McCarthyism, it mixes documentary footage with freshly filmed and brilliantly acted and scripted material with an unfailing touch. George Clooney's remarkable career arc continues; he wrote, directed and supported in this film, continuing a journey from near-gratuitous beefcake in a glossy TV series to a cornerstone of independent and quirky mainstream movies (with the occasional good-fun dips into populism). He is an inspiration to everybody who cares about cinema.

This is a terrifically important story, not least because we are again being told what we should think and how we should feel about nebulous, often arguably-nonexistent or at least unimportant enemies of our states. We must not let another McCarthy rise, and Strathairn and Clooney remind us just how recent, and how easy, it was. This matters, and it has been executed perfectly.