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Moments in time, preserved to embarrass me later.

23-2-2006 (archived)

A few of us, led by the lidbert, went to the ballet a couple of nights ago. Now, I haven't been to the ballet since I was a less large child, but the lure of Edward Scissorhands was just too much to be ignored.

It was good. Very, very good. Extraordinarily good, actually. I would single out the astonishing lighting for special mention, but everything else was so close to perfect that it would seem a little unfair. I'm an intensely verbal person, but this suffered not at all from the absence of words. If one were to pick holes, it is perhaps a little bit of a copout that they've chased the visual comedy and left out a great deal of the emotional depth, though the ending does carry a charge. Genius.

Interestingly, there were more phones and noisy conversations at a ballet at the Lowry than at any three typical teenager-flicks at the local multiplex. I am not really surprised, though I am disappointed. I was surprised by the almost complete absence of goths in the audience, though; perhaps, as Liz suggested, they only come out at weekends.

25-2-2006 (archived)

I've seen two screen versions of “Casanova” in the last few months, both played largely for comedy but with surprisingly different takes on the material. The BBC series was witty, clever and surprisingly true to the diaries in some ways, but I was never quite happy with Tennant in the lead role; he's a charming and energetic screen presence, but he doesn't work nearly as naturally in the part as Heath Ledger did. It was hugely enjoyable, though, with surprising emotional depth.

The film has no emotional depth or loyalty to the story whatsoever (though, as Ebert mentioned, nothing in it is more ludicrous and unbelievable than the things Casanova actually did), but it has the huge advantage of Ledger's enormous charisma in the lead and Omid Djalili, last noted by me stroking Bill Bailey's beard in Black Books, on top comic form as his manservant. It is nothing more or less than an energetic farce, played shamelessly and superbly for the laughs. Not enlightening, but massively entertaining.

27-2-2006 (archived)

Final Destination 3” is almost exactly the same as the previous installment except with a rollercoaster instead of a car crash, and (from memory) a slightly different ending (the critic who called it a “cliffhanger” clearly wasn't paying attention, which given who he is isn't particularly surprising), so my review of that probably tells you everything you need to know. The deaths here are probably more elaborately gory but less inventive and funny (though some of them have their moments), and to its credit it comes part way back to the Classic American Slasher Movie by putting in some breasts, sticking to the classic “teenager played by clearly significantly older actress” mode so that we need feel no guilt at enjoying them. That said, Chelan Simmons does seem to look a lot like Lindsay Lohan before she decided that coke and Paris were good friends.

This is one of those movies that there's no real need to review: you know what it's about and whether you're going to like it, provided that it's done well. It is; whether it's as good as the last version depends entirely on whether you think the extra nipples balance out the slightly cleverer deaths. Me, I'm undecided.

1-3-2006 (archived)

I have very little to say about “Lucky Number Slevin”, because it is awash with plot twists I don't want to spoil, other than that it is very good - slick, funny, deadpan-violent, amoral - rather like a Usual Suspects by Tarantino, though not as good as that might sound. Hartnett, Willis, Kingsley, Freeman and Liu are all rather good, and I didn't figure out what was really going on until about a half hour before the end. Fun.

3-3-2006 (archived)

I wouldn't normally post this many film reviews in a row, but it's just possible that you might still be able to see “Proof”. Its release seemed to me to have been badly cocked up - its theoretical release, and reviews, appeared a fortnight before my monthly movie planner had it appearing and before any cinema within fifty miles was showing it, which probably diluted any buzz there might otherwise have been. It's a shame, because this is an exceptional film that deserves to be seen. The four actors leading what is still, essentially, a play are very good; in the case of both Gyllenhaal (as usual) and particularly Paltrow, they are extraordinary. I am at a loss as to why she hasn't been nominated for anything. It is completely believable emotionally, and you need know nothing about mathematics or mathematicians to get full value from it; but if you do, you may get even more, for it captures a sense of universities and particularly of the nature of professional mathematicians that I have never seen in media before. Finally, and not least, the scene in which Paltrow reads, aloud, from her father's notebook is one of the most emotionally powerful moments I can remember in any film. Magnificent.

6-3-2006 (archived)

It turns out that this story on students being censured for blocking hall of residence drains with their pleasure dividend is probably untrue, but it did remind me of two true stories from my own undergraduate hall days.

The first is definitely true, since I was a central player therein; it dates from my early days in my halls of residence. To fully appreciate this you need to know that my halls were and indeed are largely devoted to the training of people (usually around the age of fifty) for the Christian ministry, and that I was then, as now, long-haired and also somewhat publicly atheistical. You also need to know that, like many such halls, it was divided into small blocks each with its own complement of bathing facilities.

Well, after a few weeks of my first term, this fiftyish, bearded balding chap came to me and basically said: you've blocked up the shower drain with your hair, please clean it. Well, while resenting the accusation I thought I would rather make peace than trouble, and so did clean it. This cycle then repeated itself roughly once a week for the next few weeks. However, believing myself innocent, I eventually laid a trap by securing permission from another block to use their facilities, and was able to tell the (now somewhat embarrassed) chap that in fact, I hadn't used it since I last cleaned it, and therefore all the hair is somebody else's and he should attend, in short, to the beam in his own. Satisfaction indeed.

The other incident may not be true, though it was widely reported at the time. The gist of it, from memory, was that the janitorial staff of a large halls a half mile away from ours had refused to clean a certain student's room until they received a written apology and assurances that his behaviour would not be repeated, although in fact the condition of his room had given them no cause for complaint. What had disturbed them was an article he had produced for the student newspaper, touching upon the topic of masturbation, in which he remarked that he had used his sink as a receptacle sufficiently often that he was, and I think I quote correctly even twelve years on, “surprised that the plughole wasn't pregnant”.

I have no further comment other than to remark that, judging by impromptu straw polls, it is a rare male student who, lacking en suite facilities and in the cold and dark of the night, will not occasionally use his sink for the receipt of rather thinner fluids than these rather than trekking out to his block's facilities. They say many things about students, and in my experience most of them are true.

9-3-2006 (archived)

The Weather Man” is a small, clean, crafted, thoughtful and funny character study featuring Nicolas Cage at his formidable best as a television weather presented set about with self-loathing, not all of it unreasonable, and bitterly aware that he can never live up to his father as an artist or a parent, even as he tops him in fame and money. Very little happens, nor does it need to. Lovely.

11-3-2006 (archived)

Syriana” is one of the more complicated films I've seen recently, both in its interwoven and never brightly illuminated plot-lines and in my responses to it; I am still unsure as to whether it was a good film, and even less sure as to how much I liked it, though I am glad I have seen it.

Of course Clooney has won an Oscar for his performance, and it is not entirely surprising; not only was he very good indeed (as was just about everyone), but he did several Oscar-baiting things, most notably gaining an almost distracting amount of weight (we're so used to seeing him slim and gorgeous) and playing a rather unsympathetic character. There's a lot more to the film than just him, though, and its point is fairly clear: there are a lot of people and a lot fewer scruples involved in middle-Eastern oil, and many of them have contradictory interests; not so many of them have the greatest good of the greatest number at heart; and America does some fairly unpleasant things for distasteful reasons. Of course, none of this is news to anybody who's been paying even the most cursory attention, but it's apparently still enough to be shocking in many quarters in America, and to confirm Clooney's status as Hollywood's liberal conscience.

It is certainly well-crafted, intricate, intelligent, and thought-provoking. It's probably not, as such, enjoyable, and neither should it be; but perhaps it was just a little too slow. I can't decide. Certainly it was a strong and worthwhile film, but I still don't know if it was a truly good one.

12-3-2006 (archived)

There are certain traditions in mainstream fiction, and even more so in cinema mainstream and otherwise, that are so rarely broken as to be almost unnoticed; these are not our conventions, they are merely how stories work. When they are conventions of genre, their lack of universality makes them noticable; in movies that are not horror movies, pretty girls get to kiss boys without dying in the next scene. But for these true fundamentals, we become aware of them them only, and jarringly, when they are omitted, and it takes a extraordinarily good film to do it so well, and thoroughly, and convincingly, that we hardly notice at all.

Capote” is such a movie. Hoffman, in his brilliant, overwhelming and deservedly Oscar-winning capture of Capote, does mildly awful things for no reason other than because he wants to. He goes into funeral parlours and opens coffins to look at bodies. He mistreats and exploits all those around him. He wheedles his way into the confidence of strangers and exploits them mercilessly. Most notably, in a film, he lies: lies straight to the face of a man about whom he claims to care (and probably really does), because telling the truth will make his life harder, and he does it without a tremor or a moment of hesitation. There is no moment of consequence, no acknowledgement by the film that Capote is doing wrong and knows it, and it is this convention that is broken so completely and smoothly.

This is not the place to talk about Capote's importance as a writer, and nor am I the person to do it. This film is really about the period over which he wrote “In Cold Blood”, a complete change of style for him and the last significant work of his life; arguably, those consequences do arrive, as creative death and eventually an unmetaphorical death from the alcoholism that we see beginning to overtake him through the film.

I was reminded of Bill Bryson's “The Lost Continent”, in which he visited the town in which the events of Capote's book took place (and discovered, doubtless to the sound of Capote spinning vigorously in his grave, that virtually nobody there had read it). Anyway, he remarks that the book “was considered an instant classic, largely because Capote told everyone it was”. Having read this line, it was impossible to see the film without being reminded of it; that was, it seems, exactly the sort of man he was, and so exactly the man that Hoffman so brilliantly portrayed. Extraordinary.

15-3-2006 (archived)

ID cards are coming round again, and have managed to infuriate me not a little. I'm not so much infuriated by the cards themselves, although they would undoubtedly be hugely expensive and utterly useless, but rather by all the idiocy surrounding them. In particular, and no special order:

This last one is the one that probably gets to me most, to be honest. In case you've not been paying attention, here's the sequence of events. First, they publish their manifesto, the relevant piece of which is reproduced here: “We will introduce ID cards, including biometric data like fingerprints, backed up by a national register and rolling out initially on a voluntary basis as people renew their passports.” Now, no sane person would take this to mean that it will be compulsory to have a biometric ID card when you renew your passport; that is simply and obviously not what the sentence means. If it said that, the words “on a voluntary basis” would not be there. Yet Charles Clarke is claiming that yes, this is a voluntary basis, since you don't need a passport. This is about as tenable as claiming that you don't need to pay tax, since you can give away all your property and resign from work while subsisting on benefits. No. The manifesto says, clearly and explicitly, that they would be voluntary. I, and many others, said that this was a lie. It is, and was. None of this is any surprise. To try to claim that it was what they said all along, though, is absurd, and demonstrates just how much contempt they have for the electorate and the political process as a whole.