rfbooth.com :: blog archives

Moments in time, preserved to embarrass me later.

3-11-2006 (archived)

This later-than-usual post is the first symptom of a November that is likely to be several posts shorter, and significantly more erratic, than usual; I have a particularly busy month ahead and my writing time is one of the things that will have to give. Do not adjust your sets.

In the mean time, and returning to the subject of education, my thesis adviser and long-time mentor and collaborator Sasha Borovik has been blogging, and doing so well enough that I actually became aware of it only when it was linked to on a (not mathematical) mailing list I subscribe to. He is not only a remarkable mathematician and a great friend, but a tremendously thoughtful, gifted and conscientious educator; his reason and intuition serve him as well here as in his mathematics. In case it's not obvious, I recommend his blog without reservation.

20-11-2006 (archived)

Not so much erratic as non-existent, then. Rumours of my death on powerlifting forums are greatly exaggerated, and the cold that has stopped me lifting for several weeks (and, even more annoyingly, rendered me completely unable to sing and almost to speak at this year's UKMG national) seems to be on the verge of departure. Some of my hobbies have of course continued, and since film-watching was among them I am now several behind. Since the intermittency is likely to continue, I shall post reviews and indeed other things in bunches for the moment.

So, today's theme is cartoons. “Open Season” was fine, but no better. Billy Connolly and his aggressive squirrels were good, and the Elf song (to the tune of Teddybear's Picnic) did make me laugh immoderately, but in the end it was so-so. Children seemed to enjoy it.

Barnyard” was really pretty dull. Almost all the cows were male, and they all had udders. Which looked prosthetic. It was alright and all, but, really, dull. I remember very little else about it.

Whether “Hoodwinked” worked depends largely on your perspective. The younger audience members were clearly lost and bored for quite a lot of the talky bits, so a fail there. But, for the adults, it was just brilliant. My notes from this read, in their entirety, “all *so* good”, and that is pretty much how I still feel about it from a distance. It's extremely witty, funny, silly, the songs are really strong, the voice acting and character animation are excellent (aside: many critics knocked it for not being hyper-detailed in the current computer-driven style. Not so long ago, ALL cartoons looked like this, and were none the worse for it. The animation works, why are you looking at the backgrounds?), and it's so packed with ideas and references that it would take multiple viewings to catch them all. The best cartoon of the year, by some distance.

2-12-2006 (archived)

We may or may not be back to regular service from here. Let's see. There's certainly a big backlog of reviews to work through, anyway.

Going through movie ticket stubs, I realised that I'd forgotten to review “The Sentinel”. It's a decent enough thriller, carried well by Douglas and Sutherland, and decorated nicely by Eva Longoria, and everything pretty much works the way it should. Fun, but nothing too special.

Also fun but not special, “A Good Year”, which while being nothing other than a standard-issue feel-good movie with some nice lines of bastardry from Crowe is pretty good at it. I have no idea why it's had such at thorough, vicious and relentless kicking from the critics; we thought it was effective, enjoyable, and good for cleaning out the tear ducts in the appropriate places. If anyone expected any more, they're idiots.

4-12-2006 (archived)

Continuing with the season of vaguely-matched film reviews, “Dirty Sanchez”, unlike the Jackass boys, fell into the trap of trying to hang the film on a crappy plot. Fortunately, they didn't waste too much time on it, and it was at least notable for pointing out that one the Guardian critics fact-checks sufficiently carefully to be unable to distinguish Lemmy Kilminster from Howard Marks. The stunts are pretty much gross-out (though they had to cut “the sequence featuring a man sucking excrement from the anus of a live rabbit”, for which small mercy let us be thankful) and maximum pain territory; they're funny in an I-can't-believe-it way, but this has none of Jackass's whimsy and charm - we're laughing at them, not with them. Thoroughly inferior.

And so we come to “Jackass Number Two”, which is full of charm, though one does doubt Knoxville's life expectancy (he is the one who does seem genuinely insane). There's quite a bit of gross-out too, including Pontius and Knoxville drinking horse ejaculate (Pontius: “I'm ashamed of myself. I completely am.” Knoxville: “Yup. That's definitely semen.” Of course, had the Welsh lads done this it would have been merely horrible; these guys are laughing at themselves, not just each other, and that, plus those great reaction lines, are what make it work).

Highlights are mainly various things, including various cast members on bicycles, in shopping trolleys, and an actual famous quadraplegic in his wheelchair, being rocket-propelled into a lake, capped by Knoxville almost being killed and then being launched spectacularly on second attempt by a giant Buck Rogers-ish rocket, and Wee Man jumping off a bridge while attached to the not-wee Lacy with a bungee cord. The opening stampede scene is pretty great, too. Stupid, but good-natured and charming. And the funniest film of the year, judged on sheer inability to breathe, by the way.

7-12-2006 (archived)

So last night I was on my way home from the gym via various places, and was succeeded in the newsagents by a very small street person with a beard that made him look like he was fellating a sheep. I returned to the kebab shop in order to await my food, but sadly this chap followed me, asked me where I came from (and believed my answer to be Eccles, interestingly), and then proceeded to quiz me on my employment, leading to a lengthy disquisition on how he was an orphan and had never been to school a day of his life. As if this were not enough joy, I was then treated to an evidently practiced speech on what was wrong with the world, namely not enough godliness (cue showing of bible in his inside pocket). By this point I was beginning to wonder if I was going to have to kill him, but fortunately my food arrived and I was able to leave, ignoring his cries of “hang on, I've nearly finished!”

As I went out of the door, I heard behind me the start of another conversation. I do hope the chap who came from Germany spent less time being harangued than did I.

9-12-2006 (archived)

Today's film theme, then, is silly, silly comedies with long names. “Tenacious D: The Pick of Destiny” is one of those easy-to-review movies; if you like The D, you'll like this. If you don't, you won't. If you don't know who they are, you probably won't care much. In places it's a bit of an old-fashioned stoner movie, but there's still plenty there for a sober audience, most notably “Use the cock!” and the magnificent vocalised-to Bach of the better trailers. Great fun.

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” is not silly in the same innocent way as PoD. If course a lot of the movie is mocking people who think foreigners are backward and funny (including a lot of the audience, one suspects), and a great deal of it is completely, unhesitatingly brilliant - the nude wrestling scene is horrifying and magnificent, and little moments like the throwing down of the bag to a squawk are superb. Cohen is probably the best physical comedian now working, and he is utterly fearless. Nobody can seriously suggest that this film should be offensive to Kazakhs (anyone who thinks they're actually like this is such an idiot as to be irrelevant), and accusing a man of anti-semitism who is not only Jewish but indeed whose “Kazakh” dialogue is mostly Hebrew stuffed with in-jokes is absurd, but many people, on sober reflection, have found his manipulation and victimisation of the stupid and weak troubling. I do, a little. None of that changes the fact that, along with Jackass, this is the funniest film of the year.

11-12-2006 (archived)

I have a confession to make: I have not seen Infernal Affairs. Despite this deficiency, I have seen “The Departed”, Scorsese's remake, and I intend to review it anyway. Like so many Scorsese films, what strikes you first is not cinematography but what an extraordinary performance he gets from his actors. Matt Damon is the best he's ever been, DiCaprio justifies the promise he showed in Scorsese's own Gangs of New York by being astonishingly, revelatorily good, Wahlberg is again a brooding, charismatic presence, and Sheen and of course Nicholson (as over-the-top as he has ever been, but appropriately so) are as good as you would expect.

When you see past these brilliant actors, what you get is just as good. Everything seems real, grimy and believable, and the horrors that the dedicated officers put themselves through are upsetting and inspirational. The whole film is drenched in testosterone and introspection - a magnificent trick if you can do it - and the soundtrack is superb and never out of place. This is Scorsese back to the subjects on which he made his name, and he has never been better.

14-12-2006 (archived)

No particular theme today but quality; since I'm still ten movies behind, I have to keep reviewing in bunches.

The Prestige” is a remarkable film with a superlative cast, with Jackman, Bale, Caine and Johansson all exercising their very considerable abilities and David Bowie channelling Gary Oldman's Dracula convincingly enough that I misidentified the actor. The first half of the film is convincing and real, with a slightly surprising shift into rather steampunkish fantasy (the surprise being that “fantasy” takes a modifier here, I suppose). This is very nearly a great film, and the only real drawback is that if you figure out the two big mysteries of the film - Bale's and Jackman's methods for the central, impossible trick - relatively early, as we did, then the slightly expository second half drags just a little. Near-great, then, which is more than enough.

Breaking and Entering” is a very English piece, but not in the chocolate-box Richard Curtis fantasy sense; we have urban decay, earnest young developers, cynical barrow-boy policemen, Swedish wives, Russian prostitutes, Bosnian immigrants. As so often, Law excels playing a character who initially seems to be the nice guy but turns out not to be so much, and Freeman, Binoche, Wright Penn, and Winstone are all exceptional. Free-running is hot at the moment, and well used here, and while it seems odd to have an American woman playing Swedish and a Frenchwoman Bosnian, they both manage well enough to convince me. Deep, thoughtful, and compelling, but not in the end quite satisfying. Which is probably how it should be, actually.

17-12-2006 (archived)

Today's theme is vaguely horrorish, but with two very different examples.

Saw III” is an example, all too common at the moment, of the horror film as unrelieved nastiness. There is little hope of any sort of escape, let alone justice, and the only reason for its existence seems to be to see how far they can push the pain and grue. If, as alleged, people really were fainting and having to be removed by ambulance from showings, then they are idiots. It is not convincing, or compelling, or interesting. All it is is unpleasant.

The Convenant”, on the other hand, is really just a teen movie hung on a horror motif; our young heroes, and the other guy, are witches. It desperately wants to be The Lost Boys, full of style, wit, and hot young supernaturals, and doesn't even dare to aspire to the intellectual, moral, and especially emotional heights that Buffy has routinely reached. Unfortunately, while it's a passable enough picture, it's just not very good at anything except beautiful stars and action scenes (the shot from the trailer, with the sports car exploding and reassembling around the truck, is predictably enough the high point). A nice idea, and shiny fun, but in the end just not alive enough.

20-12-2006 (archived)

More cartoons today.

Happy Feet” was pretty good fun, and probably better for kids than a lot of the ones I liked more. Good cast, kind of cute, not too scary, lots of lines that were funny at the time but two hours later are completely gone from your head. Still, a good cast having a good time, especially Robin Williams and Hugh Jackman.

More Jackman voiceover action in “Flushed Away”, which just about managed to live up to having been trailed for what seemed like a year and a half before eventually making it to the screen. This really is great, in just about every way. Jackman, Winslet, McKellen and the rest are all spot on, it's funny, just the right amount of touching, and constantly inventive, rich in detail, and silly. The slugs are superb. It's still not quite my favourite cartoon of the year, but nobody else agrees with me on that one, so I'm probably wrong. Apparently Aardman modelled on thumbprints to the CGI characters, to bring it back to that claymation look. I didn't notice that, but I certainly noticed everything else. Outstanding.