29 January, 2010

WTF? Pink Floyd album cover issued as stamps

From BBC News:

Classic album covers issued as stamps

I have a slight question about this. Which Pink Floyd cover would you have included?

Division Bell is striking but really? Dark Side of the Moon, The Wall, Animals all much more iconic. Even Meddle, Wish You Were Here, and Delicate Sound of Thunder have better covers. Disregarding the WTF?!? about this choice, this is by no measure one of Floyd's better albums.

Ziggy Stardust probably isn't the best Bowie cover either, but at least it's a great album.

Bonus Smile: The cake on the cover of Rolling Stones, Let It Bleed was baked by a young Delia Smith!

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28 January, 2010

Back-B-Log: Me vs. J.D. Salinger

The less than untimely demise of famed literary recluse J.D. Salinger, pointedly having refused to publish, or even to admit to writing for anyone but himself since 1965, is just the sort of flimsy excuse for me to pluck one of my own pieces from its well deserved literary obscurity.

This was originally an 11th grade English assignment to write in the style of this tetchy highlight of Modern American Fiction. The only things you need to know was that I was an annoyingly precocious brat with an inflated idea of my own literary merit, and I squeezed past my school procrastinations often by rolling up a few assignments into one and trying to make the result entertaining for my teachers, who bizarrely let me get away with this. The narrative and in particularly the addendum is directed to Mrs. Lamb. Mrs. Lamb was one of my first mentor/teacher fixations, a sort of platonic intellectual crush with a tinge of mother figure; just one of a pantheon of good teachers I've had that I feel I have greatly let down by not, so far, fulfilling my alleged potential. Still this was in my ambitious headier days when all that disappointment lay ahead.

That said, much of the studied irony in it is intentional. Even while I was embracing my inner Holden Caulfield, I pretty much knew what kind of jerk I was:

by Brian R. Tarnoff

If you really want to hear about the whole award crap, go on and read ahead personally, I find it damn depressing - even though I was pissed at the time. Maybe it's not so much that I didn't get the damn thing, it's just the fact that I was so Goddamned pissed about it that depresses me (in fact that just about drives me crazy). I was going to write this thing right after I heard about it, it being a decent subject and all, and with things still being fresh in my mind. I'm probably better off this way; I won't harm the typewriter or anything, though I do hate the idea of anger warmed over. If I've ever learned anything it's probably that self-pity and sarcasm have done more to fuck-up my life I'll tell you, . . . . and I suppose anger fits in there somewhere. And I was angry when I found out about it.

I remember that right after I found out about it I got home, I kind of stormed silently into the house, I won't tell you if my parents were home or not, if they had been I would have avoided them. I won't talk about them because they'd probably scream bloody murder at their slightest mention. I could never write about any kind of family situation, they would just always cast the wrong light on it and act like I was talking about them for chrissakes. I would have avoided them at that moment because I was hostile and they'd want to do or say something which would only make me react like a bastard, and then they'd cast the wrong light on that. Anyway, I'd just gotten home and though I was hungry, I couldn't think of eating any stuff. I sort of wandered spastically from room to room in a way which reminds me of an old description of bachelorhood. I finally wound up in front of the piano playing Für Elise.

In case you want to know, Für Elise is a thing by Beethoven. I taught it to myself as sort of a challenge; you see, my sister, who is about eleven years older than me, learned it about the time I was born, and when ever she comes over to our house she plays the damn thing over and over, and makes mistakes, even with the music in front of her every time; I can't sight read, but at least once I get the damn thing down that's it. So I memorized it though I don't play the whole thing. After the main part, which is kind of sad, there's this real fast cheery part which doesn't really fit in with the mood which I never memorized, there's another section later on which I know only I don't play it too much because it's even too gloomy for old Ludvig; sometimes I wonder who made him write like that. Anyway, it just seems that I manage to play the main part pretty well, over and over again.

I originally found out about the damn book thing while talking on the telephone. Sometimes I feel as if half my life is being squeezed between various wires. I'm not very comfortable on the phone, and I'm not so comfortable off either.

Anyway I was talking with one of my teachers, Mrs. Lamb, about my decision on whether or not to graduate early, which originally had been a strong intention of mine. Deciding things really drives me fucking nuts, I have trouble about making my mind up about going to the damn bathroom. My original graduation decision got so screwed up and awry, I have a hard time trusting myself. Anyway this is not the first time I've been shafted by a college. Harvard didn't accept me because they took some basketball player from our school instead, and his father knew the Harvard coach, I swear those athletic bastards always stick together. So I was talking about not going to college next year. It came up that there are these two book awards, one from Brown, one from Harvard, that are awarded by the junior English department, in our school the American Studies department. If I stayed on I would probably get the Harvard award, If not, the Brown, this was a sure thing. Regardless, I finally decided to stay on, not because of anything stupid like that award, for the most part, I forgot about it. The damn thing is that I'm beginning to feel I made the right choice, for a change.

I heard about the award again right after I, with the help of Mrs. Lamb, Mark Young and others, had dropped off some of the school's video equipment at the Young's house. The equipment was for a project I am doing, which Is producing a videotaped version of The Mousetrap; the project was another name for a fool's errand one of my decisions had sent me on. In order to accomplish it, I had to beg the volunteered services of some of my classmates; unfortunately there was little I could do to instill a sense of what the hell a commitment means into some of these bastards, not that they were all like that, but all it takes is one or two to really fuck things up, it really makes me depressed.

Anyway we had just delivered the damn cameras and all (it's a cartload of double-inventoried shit) to the Young's house. They were nice enough to let me use it for a set, well it's embarrassing looking back on the stinking mess; it took me the better part of a school year to coax the machinery away from Miss Young (no relation to the above in any respect), who is a person at convenience - entirely her own. Anyway, due partially to her slowness in shuffling the buck around, and under the Store Dick's eyes of Mrs. McConnell, I was producing a play set in the midst of a blizzard, in the midst of May.

Well, enough on that crap, if I talk much more about it I'm liable to rot my gut out from the inside, I swear it's just as bad as not talking about it.

Mrs. Lamb was driving me home from the Young's. I like Mrs. Lamb. I mean, really, she's the closest I've ever come to having an intelligent conversation with a teacher. And that's not her fault, I just don't have intelligent conversations, it really drives me nuts. She's nice though, I usually can't stand smokers; we do have a shared addiction for caffeine, we talk over freshly ground coffee. Even then, I always sense alot of that student/teacher crap, we're on a kind of shifting first name basis. I know it's probably tied up In some kind of respect-for-age-or-even-weak-authority-bullshit, still there always seems to be an uneasy time-lapse when I talk to her.

She had agreed to be the 'supervising faculty member' for my project, this meant that if she felt like showing up she could look in on the futility between puffs of a filter-tipped exhaust pipe. This would not be necessary of course, she had kindly done enough to keep the Mothers Superioresses of the Learning Materials Center happy. She was looking slightly strained, whether from her participation in the damn ordeal or from her allergies wasn't quite apparent to me yet. She had a depressed glaze over her eyes that resembled those of her dog Rosie at the moment she had reasoned that you were not going to give her any food.

Rosie is sort of an accomplishment as far as old beagles go, she is the Bernard Berenson of veterinary illness. She's deaf, frigid, arthritic , weak bladdered, and I would not be surprised to find out that she had halitosis and the colic. In a strange way I believe that Mrs. Lamb and Rosie are sisters under the skin, both seem racked by existential guilt, Rosie with her maladies and internal magnet towards food, Peg with her long suffering compulsions for nicotine, caffeine and her allergies. I'm sure that Mrs. Lamb would be amused to hear me call her a Christian Martyr.

We were riding In her Peugeot, She was looking ill. I didn't know it, but I was probably making matters worse. I was talking about my upcoming appointment with my guidance counselor, Mrs. Way, to talk about the graduation thing.

Mrs. Way is alright, I guess, she's just hard to stand under the wrong circumstances. She's one of our typical guidance counselors, the constant cheerfulness of a nurse in a terminal ward, the busy-ness to appear busy and the posters spouting slogans from Mr. Rodgers. Not that I'm knocking him, Old Fred's a true humanitarian, he's one of those few people who can make kids feel important, really, I remember back then. Mrs. Way tries to come off that way to High-School students, and in the long run she's well meaning and something slightly like smarmy.

Mrs. Lamb got this pained expression on her face as if she was going to say something that neither of us would want to hear; that's one thing about Old Peg, she has the common courtesy to go out of her way to feel guilty. Anyway, It sort of came out, now I don't want to go to far into this but, what happened was this:

Mrs. Lamb was in the Main Office earlier that day and one of the secretaries happened to mention that one of the book awards had come in, the one from Harvard, the one for,..., Jeff Everett. It was at about this time that I lost the circulation in my gums. Now, I don't really have anything against this kid, I mean from the little that I know he doesn't seem a bad sort at all, but he never seemed like much more either. His name certainly would not have risen in the first fifty when it came to writing awards for our class. If not my name, then I would suggest Mark Young; it's kind of ironical that when I happened to mention the awards to him he said he would try to contest my right to the Harvard award over the slightly less prestigious Brown award, which he received.

It seems some kind of screw-up happened somewhere. The American Studies Department gave my name to Mrs. Way and she was supposed to pass it on to Mr. Knorr, our principal, and God only knows what transpired except that Everett's name appeared at Harvard. I'm not going to try to sort it out or anything half-assed like that, I'm not that heavily into recrimination; this too shall pass. But at the time blurry conspiratorial images flooded my brain. I pictured horrendous favoritistic schemes, Machiavellian deposits of large sums of money into Mr. Knorr's Swiss Bank account made by Everett's father in the hope that he too would become a basketball player.

Anyway, it was soon after Mrs. Lamb finished explaining what she knew about it that we arrived gratefully home and I was delivered hence. I had been trying not to burden her with my upsetness, and here was a perfect opportunity to knockabout the house.

I'd really like to get you to understand, I don't know if you write. Aside from my poetry, I'm the best writer I know personally, and I don't mean that cocky or anything. It's just that I'm obsessed with all my creative outlets and possessed by them, and writing is the thing I know I do well; I'll stop short of saying that it's tied to my masculinity or anything shitty like that, but all it took was this sterile, docile, little man sitting behind his desk to, with one sweeping, unseeing, insensitive act, invalidate my life. Now I'll tell you one thing, I did not feel emasculated, I have felt that way at times in my life, but this was definitely not one of them; that's odd. But I was pissed, I did tell you that.

I understand that there's nothing personal in this gross insult. It's kind of empty and impersonal. It's like a graffiti-artist scrawling FUCK YOU across a wall, he doesn't know you or that you'll come along, but he writes it for some reason. Grammatically the closest thing to an inferred object in that is the wall itself, which receives the action from the implied subject, in this case, the author. I guess I shouldn't be so galled by the malfunctioning of the machine I live in and have resigned myself to for another year. I suppose I'll just go back to observing the way the other inmates fail to notice its existence.

That's kind of like a play we read this year, A Death of a Salesman. What Miller should have written about, but only partially covered in his play, was not how people become trapped in illusions, but that if people do live in illusions of their own making and are happy and not bothering anyone else with it, then they should be left to themselves. At the end of the play this happens to Biff, he escapes his father's illusion, unlike Hap who inherits it. The only good reason I've ever seen for sharing an illusion is love, certainly not bloodlines. Anyway that can only take place in a perfect illusion, one that resembles truth.

J.D. Salinger had trouble like that or near to it. This paper is supposed to be written in his style or something, looking back over it, well it's kind of uneven, maybe I'll do something about it. I just can't stand the way he refuses to grow up and all. I had a bit of trouble with maturity, but I've decided to accept it as a new form of madness different from the old. I don't know whether he had any kids, but I hope not, he'd probably drive them nuts. I suppose he was right about kids being smart and all. I always felt that it was a tribute to infantile wisdom that 'as a wee prat' I never trusted Richard Nixon, even before everyone else. I also found out that he got the Harvard Book Award when he was in High-School. I don't even want the fucking thing anymore, not even the book.

Well, anyway, I don't think I'll try to rewrite this thing or anything. I don't think I can help it if my own style tries to break through and overcome the Salingeritis. I guess I'll just turn the typewriter off and go downstairs and play Für Elise for a while.

Posthaste [To Mrs. Lamb]-
I've just reread this thing for the fourth time and I can't get over the fact that I made you a partial Christ figure, I swear it was completely unintentional. I did have a hard time avoiding overkill, I probably have half an hour of stand-up material left over. By the way, it's called "Studies In Sterility".
-BRT 12 June 1981 1:08 A.M.

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27 January, 2010

My Nominations For the Kermode Awards

Great BBC film critic and serious hair product consumer Mark Kermode has asked for nominations for his film awards. The usual top categories, but with the notion that we should nominate both the best, and likely to be ignored or unappreciated by the likes of the BAFTAs and OSCARs. (see his video blog here)

This has been a fairly slim year for films, and I've certainly missed seeing a lot of those that I'm hearing good things about. But the quality of the films I've really enjoyed has kept my faith. Anyway, in the spirit of waste not want not, I present the nominations I posted to the Kermode blog.

Best Film- Moon OR A Serious Man
Moon I simply enjoyed more thoroughly than any other film this year.A Serious Man might be the first Coen bros film actually about something other than their cleverness at making films.

Best Director- Duncan Jones (Moon)
A really solid debut.With the references to the likes of 2001 and Silent Running could have easily slipped into pastiche, which it never does. I think Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker) ought to get the big awards, well deserved, and also to get one up on her ex and his pretty blue people. Also Terry Gilliam, even when he puts out an uneven film, it's a joy to behold.

Best Actor- Sam Rockwell (Moon)
I think this may be the most underappreciated dual role since Jeremy Irons in Dead Ringers. Andy Serkis (Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll) and Michael Sheen (The Damned United) are close favorites. Also agree with those who've mentioned Stephen McHattie's lynchpin performance in Pontypool. Matt Damon (The Informant!) and Michael Stuhlbarg (A Serious Man) were similarly essential in their respective films.

Best Actress- Charlotte Gainsbourg (Antichrist)
Whatever else you come away with from the film, a blistering performance, it's almost too much too bear. Close in the trauma stakes: Melissa George (Triangle).

Best Supporting Actor- Bill Milner (Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll)
Serkis performance would have overpowered everyone else in the movie (much as Dury seemed to), but for the relationships portrayed excellently with his son.Olivia Williams and Naomie Harris also deserve praise within this ensemble.
Also Tom Waits (The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassas), I could have done with more of him and Christopher Plummer and their feud in the past than the Heath and his regrettable understudies bits.

Best Supporting Actress- Anne Marie Duffy and Kristin Scott Thomas (Nowhere Boy) and only if they can share it.
OR Olivia Williams and Naomie Harris (Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll) with the same proviso
OR Meryl Streep (The Fantastic Mr Fox) her dead on performance grounded the quirkaholic Wes Andersons film on the enjoyable end of the spectrum.
Also, Milla Jovovich (A Perfect Getaway) -- perfect B movie acting, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin (Zombieland) another dual nomination, Kristen Stewart (Adventureland) maybe it takes a particularly good performance to make Jesse Eisenberg credible, Zooey Deschanel ((500) Days of Summer) don't quite understand why Mark slammed this cineliterate update on Chilly Scenes of Winter, he clearly dislikes certain American female inflections and the actresses who possess them.

Best Score - Clint Mansell (Moon) Honourable mention: Chaz Jankel (Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll)

Most Disappointing Movies:Public Enemies and Inglorious Basterds
I know Mark didn't ask for this, but I saw these films with lowered expectations, which neither managed to rise to. Public Enemies unforgivably ugly videography from a director and cinematographer who should know better, and boring. Inglorious Basterds, too few good bits surrounded with boredom and pointless grandstanding, I hope its success doesn't prompt more of the same from QT. I was slightly disappointed by the excellent The Damned United, but only because it wasn't a zombie film.

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24 January, 2010

Brokeback Pandora: The Hidden Secret of Avatar

You know, all this time we've just been blindly assuming that the Na'vi have the same sexual distinctions as we do, even though they have alien physiology.


Sully, now that you're one of us I should tell you...
These bumps on my chest aren't breasts....

...they're my testicles...

Do you think Ang Lee has time to direct the sequel? Will the Village People re-release their hit, "In the Na'vi?" Will Neytiri admit the things that the Na'vi priests did to Sully's Na'vi body while he was "asleep".

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23 January, 2010

5 Things That Could Ruin Avatar For You

There are times when you watch a movie, you try to give it the benefit of the doubt. You've invested a certain amount of your time to watch the movie so you want it to succeed rather than suck. This means you may sometimes forgive it for its flaws. Tropic Thunder was brilliantly hilarious but I got the fear in me when Matthew McConaughey appeared on screen, luckily I let it slide, and he was actually quite good. The Wrestler had great performances from Mickey Rourke and Marisa Tomei, who should have clinched their respective Oscars, but the film sunk to its knees every time Evan Rachel Wood came onscreen to whine and live up to her surname, but I forgave the film and enjoyed what was good about it.

Oddly enough, when I recently saw the much lauded The Road, there were too many logical inconsistencies in it, which I was unable to keep to the back of my mind, despite Viggo Mortensen and his incredible beard acting. It's a shame but there you are.

I'm pretty generous, however. I went into Avatar with pretty low expectations. This was mostly because I hated Titanic. And I mean hate with the depth that causes feuds several generations after an insult. I've otherwise enjoyed all Cameron's previous films (didn't see Piranha 2), although, tellingly I felt that both director cuts of Aliens and The Abyss were inferior to their theatrical release. With Cameron longer ain't better, so there was some trepidation.

Avatar worked enough for me to enjoy it. I liked the characters well enough, or at least their actors. Sully's a bit of a bland pill, but not off-putingly so. And for the most part I let the story carry me along so I could look at the pretty, well-rendered visuals. There were some moments that this too delicate concoction nearly came crashing down, but I managed to forgive these flaws. A good thing, otherwise I would have had to sit there like a grump for nearly three hours, which is as bad as sitting through Revolutionary Road once.

5 Things That Could Ruin Avatar For You:

1. Sully's brother was killed for "the paper in his wallet".
This is the whiz bang future. They probably don't even have credit cards anymore. It'll be subcutaneous credit chips or retinal scans. I mean you're telling me mankind has reached the stars, and can genetically engineer alien-human hybrids that can be controlled via some sort of telepresence couch, but they still haven't eliminated folding money? The only explanation is that as they later hint that earth is no longer green, that paper itself is extremely rare and valuable, like "unobtainium".

2. "Unobtainium"
When I heard this, I thought, you have no imagination at all Mr. Cameron. Sure you've created this pretty world taken off a prog-rock album cover, and given it a name from Greek mythology which suggests that someone knew that nothing good could come of it, but you couldn't even come up with a proper name for your McGuffin, the stuff the human big bad is so turned on about. Perhaps you could have called it Reallyvaluableacite, Morallybankruptium, or Couldntthinkofanythingbetteron. When I got back to base I did look Unobtainium up on the pile of execrable lies known as the internet, and apparently it is a real term that some scientist use to refer generically to an extremely rare element or compound. That said, if we needed a particular thing so badly we'd go to war for it, I'm pretty sure we'd have more than a generic name for it, otherwise we'd still be calling oil -- "blackstufffromground" or "Texas Tea".

3. Tunnel of Light
Really, doesn't Stargate have dibs on this? Or hyperspace? Or Poltergeist? (No wait, that's don't go into the light.) Anyway, I found it a completely unnecessary device and a waste of seconds of screen time in an already massive running time. It only shows contempt for the intelligence of the audience that even though they've been shown and told about how the alien puppet body couch thing works, they somehow won't work out that you've hit the on switch. It's like those mid '90s films that showed the internet like cyberspace with equations floating untethered in mid air.

4. Floating Mountains
Here we are, back on that Yes album cover. I'm surprised that Cameron, such a geek tech head would create something scientifically impossible like this. There's already an Avatar wiki out there and it claims that something about the "flux" zone of magnetic fields and the lightweight carbonfiberlike strength of unobtainium accounts for all this. I say BULLSHIT! The magnetic fields necessary to float land masses with vegetation and WATER (water ain't so light in volume) would probably tear soft living type things apart, I don't care if their skeletons are unobtainium enriched.

Leaving that aside, there are WATERFALLS. We're not shown any of these so called mountains that have say, a lake, so where the FUCK is the WATERFALL coming from? If the magnetic field etc. was so strong, would water even fall in a straight line? And finally, we're told that the magnetic fields are unstable so that instrumentation fails to compensate and can't work there. If that's the case why are the mountains in fixed places, vegetation neatly and conveniently growing between them?

Of course if these mountains are floating 'cause they're made of unobtainium, why don't we just tether them and drag them away? Then we could leave the pretty blue people and their shiny white tree alone.

5. My Big Blue Love Doll
Neytiri seems like a nice enough girl, but would you let yourself begin a relationship with a soul-less puppet that becomes lifeless when not being controlled by its human host? It's not like she's some pathetic loner that needs to get her rocks off with some latex molded in the shape of a porn star's genitalia. She has prospects, she's a catch. She believes deeply in her culture, yet she abandons the path it arranges for someone who cannot provide any sort of future. Ahh love and spurious plot devices....

Missed Opportunity
Finally, what almost is number 6 on this list, Avatar is a missed opportunity. I was annoyed that too much of the so called biology of Pandora is directly analogous to what we're familiar with. It's really taking this great new technology and making Star Trek style head ridges on it. So the Na'vi are humanoid, the "females" have mammary like bumps although we're told they're not even mamalian, their faces have eyes nose and mouth arranged as ours are. The land animals have 6 legs instead of 4, ooh that's different, but they are deployed as if they had 4, not as they might be on 6 legged insects. The animals used as we use horses, look like horses. The likelihood of extraterrestrial life is slim enough, that its evolution should be so utterly parallel in such different conditions is virtually impossible.

O.K. this is something we forgive in almost all science fiction, but this has mostly been because make-up and visual special effects, and their costs have been prohibitive in making more realistic depictions of aliens on this scale. The other factor is that the audience may need a modicum of familiarity, so as not to be too distracted by the new surroundings. However, if Pixar has taught us nothing else, an audience can anthropomorphise and identify with almost anything. Cameron should perhaps given the audience a little more credit. He has pushed the tech envelope greatly but merely tapped the visionary one.

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22 January, 2010

My annual BAFTA annoyance 2010

Well there are fewer nominations to cite this year in my rant against the BAFTA's for cheating their own eligibility requirements in order to nominate films that haven't actually been released and usually are merely imminent around the time of the award ceremonies themselves. This is an utterly craven pandering to the distributors. I have no quibble with the films released in the UK in the calendar year being honoured, in this case 2009. However, a significant portion of those nominated have been released this year, and, as usual at least one even fails BAFTA's own requirements.

Let's remind ourselves of this year's requirements:


Films must be released theatrically in the UK, within the Academy awards year:
1 January to 31 December 2009. Films that open between 1 January and 19 February 2010 inclusive may be 'qualified' by Distributors by being screened to Academy Film Voting Members by Thursday 17 December 2009.

To be eligible, a feature film must:

* be feature-length, i.e. with a running time exceeding 60 minutes;
* receive its first public exhibition or distribution in the UK as a theatrical release;
* be exhibited publicly to a paying audience within a commercial cinema in the UK for no fewer than seven consecutive days.

Films from all countries are eligible in all categories, with the exception of Outstanding British Film, Outstanding Debut, Short Film and Short Animation which are for British films only.

This year's Best Actress category includes Saoirse Ronan for The Lovely Bones (19 February 2010). O.K., this is released on the last day of Eligibility period, but it fails the "publicly to a paying audience... for no fewer than seven consecutive days." as the award ceremony is on the 21st.

Previous years have seen these films so dishonourably nominated:
2008 Latest Open Date 8th Feb, Awards 10th Feb.
There Will be Blood (15th Feb)

2009 Latest Open Date 6th Feb, Awards 8th Feb.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (6th Feb 2009)
Doubt (6th Feb 2009)
Vicky Cristina Barcelona (13th Feb 2009 released after the eligibility and the awards)

This may seem horribly pedantic, but my main point is that awards should be nominated and awarded from a level playing field, say a given 12 month period, not skewed to only films which have theatrical, or now possibly DVD releases that create synergy with the date of the Awards ceremony. I don't begrudge the films or their makers nominations, but this should reflect merit, not the machinations of film distributors. This also leaves the BAFTAs open to the accusation that they are an irrelevant stop-gap between the Golden Globes and the Oscars, as they bend their eligibility to include films that have earlier release dates in North America and are more suitably eligible for those awards.

I will attempt yet again to get this rant some traction, watch this space...

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BAFTA Annoyance 2010: Director Nominations

This year's BAFTA Nominations themselves are more frustrating than usual, particularly in the Directors category. (you can read my separate perennial Annual BAFTA annoyance rant here)

2010 BAFTA Director Nominations:
Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
Neill Blomkamp, District 9
James Cameron, Avatar
Lone Scherfig, An Education
Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds


I enjoyed Avatar, District 9, and probably just under half of Inglorious Basterds, but best director for any of them? You have only to look at BAFTA's Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer category to find at least two that wipe the floor with them Duncan Jones (Moon) and Sam Taylor-Wood (Nowhere Boy) (I haven't seen Eran Creevy's Shifty or Stuart Hazeldine's Exam).

Cameron for Avatar would be like nominating George Lucas for Eps 1-3 of Star Wars. Sure they've pushed the technological envelope, and in some ways that is to be applauded, it doesn't make their films any more worthy. On this basis William Castle should have been given Best Director for "The Tingler" with its innovative use of electrical shock delivered to each cinema seat. Mind you Avatar is a better film than the last 3 Lucas outings, and better than Cameron's overpraised cinematic turd "Titanic" ("You will believe a ship can sink!"), but that's only because he came up with a decent story, a fully formed if slightly dodgy world, and bland but heroic characters to go with the spectacle of pixels being pissed against the screen.

As a fan of Tarentino, I'm beginning to worry that his first three films are the best he'll ever direct. Encouraging him, or Cameron for that matter, for uneven output is evil and counterproductive.

I don't begrudge Blomkamp for District 9, he does manage, in my opinion to stretch the conceit of his previous short over the feature length (others may disagree with this point), and it is better than the other entries I've derided, but still, it should be a filler nomination in some weaker year.

A non exhaustive list of Directors more worthy of nomination for this year's BAFTA than Cameron, Tarentino and possibly Blomkamp:

Duncan Jones, Moon (it's also criminal that Sam Rockwell didn't get the acting nod, the best unappreciated dual role since Jeremy Irons in Dead Ringers)
Sam Taylor-Wood, Nowhere Boy
Ethan Coen, A Serious Man (probably one of the Coen's best)
Terry Gilliam, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassas (I'd take an uneven Gilliam opus over a dodgy Tarentino any day)
Stephen Soderberg, The Informant! (Also thought Matt Damon was incredible in this very slight but well constructed movie)
Spike Jonze, Where the Wild Things Are (not the most enjoyable film, but a unique distillation of the neuroses of childhood).
Tom Hooper, The Damned United (though disappointingly not a zombie movie... and where is Michael Sheen's nod for acting?)
Bruce McDonald, Pontypool (a cerebral and claustrophobic zombie horror with a contagion spread by language)

That's just those I've seen, I missed the likes of Jane Campion's Bright Star, Kari Skogland's Fifty Dead Men Walking or Armando Iannucci's In The Loop. That's without even mentioning the non-English language works, when you have Almodovar, Haneke, Claire Denis and Chan-wook Park on top form.

Perhaps all this is be taken as moot point as Katherine Bigelow should win for The Hurt Locker. But how on top of the world will she feel if all she does is beat her ex and his big dumb blue skinned friends?

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Surfin' Multiplex: Enduring Ian Dury, The Road, Daybreakers, 44 Inch Chest + Avatar 3 v 2 D

Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll

Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll might be subtitled "Enduring Ian Dury", this is a mostly standard biopic that doesn't shy from portraying the downsides of it's subject. Embodied by the excellent Andy Serkis, Dury is mercurial, flamboyant, tortured, dictatorial and selfish. Bearing the brunt of his personal whims and drug use are his wife Betty (Olivia Williams), his lover Denise (Naomie Harris), his son Baxter (Bill Milner), these relationships, and the quality brought by the actors to them is what really sustains the film. Sadly the film gives fairly short shrift, almost as much as Dury seems to, to his band and colleagues. Chaz Jankel is left mostly as a cipher, being wheeled on for a few "writing of the song scenes", and his departure from the band shown as symptomatic of Dury's inability to see the needs of those around him.

The film makes good use of the relationship between Dury and his son Baxter as counterpoint with Dury's relationship with his Father (Ray Winstone) shown in flashbacks as similarly absent, and also the source of the childhood trauma of being shipped, post-polio to a "craft" boarding school with a harsh regimen to give trades to disabled children. Perhaps too much of a meal is made of this as the film glosses or skips over his later academic achievements and his career as an artist. But it does give a form to the film, along with a sporadic framing device of Dury presenting the action as part of a show as narrator, these keep things from slipping into the biopic trap of merely box ticking events between birth and death.

I've heard some criticisms of this film as merely showing Dury as unpleasant and perhaps talentless. I would disagree, the film revels, as did Dury in the ripe and robust use of language, even if this does descend, at times, to working bits of his lyrics into dialogue. Dury neatly bridges the patter songs of music hall to what became rap. His work is redolent in slang, puns and bawdy humour. Whilst I am a fan of his work, I was not that aware of his story. This film offers a good look at the man a pugnacious genius verbalist, a treat for fans, and not a bad intro for the rest.

FOOTNOTE: Sadly, I never saw the man perform live, I had tickets to his last tour, and Dury passed two weeks before the show. Right selfish bastard!

The Road

The Road, based on the post-apocalyptic novel by Cormac McCarthy, and directed by Aussie John Hillcoat, is kind of like The Road Warrior as directed by Ingmar Bergman. Deliberately paced, beautifully shot, and brilliantly acted, it tells the story of a father (Viggo Mortensen) and a son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) travelling through the landscape of a crumbling world after an unspecified disaster destroys nature and civilization.

When it focuses on the father son relationship it is strikingly affecting, the son is the father's reason to live, to protect and teach to survive, but the son also struggles to act as his father's moral compass in an every man for himself future.

However, I couldn't get into this film at all. I appreciate that the set-up is meant to be metaphorical, or perhaps mythic, but my rational mind kept picking apart the wealth of implausibilities that this version of the future presents, and frankly it kept throwing me out of the film like a pair of particularly logical bouncers keeping me out of the absurdly stupid club. Listing all the guff would be overly pedantic and mean spirited, so I present a mere two examples:

SPOILER warning: these will not spoil the plot in any significant way, but may spoil your enjoyment of the film as shining the light of logic on these aspects did for me.
1. In the film's bleak vision all animals have died and all crops have failed (leaving aside what would do that without killing humans...?!?), and the survivors scavenge for tinned goods, some turn to cannibalism. At one point our protagonists stumble on an enclave of cannibals, who have a cellar full of live captives. Why? They have nothing to feed these captives, so how can they get any nutrition out of them while they waste away. It's not even that old logical conundrum of feeding the rats to the cats and the cats to the rats, the cats and rats are all dead. The only sensible thing to have done would be to slaughter them as captured (the peak of their nutritional value) and cure the meat for storage. Otherwise the law of diminishing returns kicks in like a mother.
2. In the pitilessly grimy future, where not a single building is undefiled, or room left tidy, everyone dresses like a homeless bum with falling apart shoes. Now any devotee of apocalyptic genres, or even the zombie subgenre, knows that if most of the population dies leaving the cities and towns empty, and the shops... there's a wealth of free merchandise. I could maybe accept that perhaps, in the future of doomed humanity, thriftshop chic might become the rage, or you might want to die in your favorite outfit, BUT, unless whatever killed all the animals and crops also destroyed FOOTWEAR there's no excuse for bad shoes when you can pick up a new pair in every town you stumble through. Perhaps in their hunger they've all gone a bit Chaplin-in-The-Gold-Rush.

The Road is (ir)redeemably bleak, whether you apply the ir to the redeemable, will depend on whether you can see past the fuzzy mythic post apocalypse to the heartbreaking core of the struggle of father to provide a future for his son. This will probably garner some nominations, although Mortensen and his beard may split the vote.


From the sublime but ridiculous, to the sublimely ridiculous. Daybreakers posits a future where majority has been turned to Vampires, leaving humans as a dwindling food source to be farmed. Well, they aren't being farmed too efficiently, stuck on a wall ala Matrix and drained of blood, and apparently if there's not enough to go round vamps mutate into a dangerous feral form. To bad no one promotes the use of "Free Range" humans, but the satirical eye of the film makers extends only as far as suggesting coffee bars will be offering O-neg instead of Venti Latte.

Ethan Hawke, looking so gaunt it would seem that he wants to grow up to be Stephen McHattie, is a Haematologist hoping to develop a synthetic substitute to end the enslavement.

I'm fucking sick of Vampires! There are so many (bloody) Vamp films and TV series, it's a wonder we don't have an Oscar category for best fanged performance. That said, a world of mostly vampires seems to be the logical conclusion of the above.

At least, this story of underdogs against the evil rulers and their military doesn't take itself seriously (see Avatar for that), so is pretty good fun. Ethan gets thrown in with a Human resistance group looking for a vampirism cure, Willem Dafoe does his grizzled old timer as the first accidental ex-vamp, Sam Neill as the corporate bad guy gets to chew more than just the scenery, and there's a few brief moments of well lit gore (welcome after the poorly lit horror noir of the last decade).

Avatar 3 v 2 D

I took a spare moment to re-watch the last half hour of Avatar, thanks to the staggered running at the multiplex, first in 3D then in 2D. I'd heard much made of the up to 30% colour loss in 3D, but I was truly surprised how much more vibrant and bright the colours are in the 2D version of Avatar.

What's more surprising is how an obsessive perfectionist like Cameron would allow the sullied 3D version to be released without having worked out a solution to this problem. Given how murky the colour in the 3D is in comparison, one can only explain Cameron's embrace of 3D as overcompensation for its obvious flaws or perhaps just to avoid questions about "unobtainium" and impossible floating mountains.

44 Inch Chest

The day's viewing comes full circle with Ray Winstone (Ian Dury's distant father earlier) starring in this ensemble piece from the writer's of Sexy Beast. Ray's been cuckolded by wife Joanne Whalley; his mates Ian McShane, Tom Wilkinson, John Hurt and Stephen Dillane help him kidnap the cuckolding boyfriend so he can "deal" with him. While waiting for this "dealing" they sit around and talk, and bicker and talk, and rabbit, and talk, and....

Great ensemble cast, ripe east end hardman dialogue (it's Pinter meets Manchild meets Lock Stock), and not a hell of a lot going on except the mind fuck of indecision in Ray's "I love her" but beat seven shades of shit out of her for leaving, then catatonic with guilt and impotent vengeance etc.... It's not so much predictable as limited to so few possibilities that seeing them play out is a bit of a chore. I think it would have been more enjoyable as a stage play, where the flavour of the speech and the immediacy of the performances would have given the dimension that is otherwise lacking in this flatly filmed chamber drama.


04 January, 2010

The 5 (or 6) wives of Jacob Zuma

BBC World Service - South Africa's President Jacob Zuma takes another wife

After controversially taking his 5th wife, there are plans for him to marry a 6th later next year. He is also divorced from his government's Home Affairs Minister. Another of his wives killed herself.

An easy mnemonic for future history lessons:


Married (pending)

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