Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Movie: `Without A Clue' (1988).

It's movie review time and Sherlock Holmes rears his head once more. I have a lingering fascination for Holmes and Watson, stemming from a complete edition bought in a motorway service station many years ago, and this is probably one of the earliest adaptations I ever saw. Ir's an adaptation with a large twist, though, a central conceit unmatched by any other screen version. Perhaps one day Holmes will be the villain, and Watson allied with Moriarty but until then the most outlandish conceit is this: What if Holmes were merely a facade, a dupe hired to front for the real detective genius? A genius none other than Dr John Watson (also known as The Crime Doctor in his own mind). Now that's the killer conceit and it's one they mostly pull off with aplomb for this comedy. For the most parts, Michael Caine plays an admirably debauched actor playing Sherlock Holmes and Ben Kingsley plays his natural stiffness and seriousness to the right level as the frustrated and unappreciated Dr Watson. At the heart of the movie these two function admirably, even when the central gag begins to stiffen toward the final third of the movie.

Normally I'm disappointed by practically every movie I watch, but that's more illustrative of my current state of mind than the movie itself, and these reviews tend to be more evenhanded. It's not so hard to be more positive about this movie as it is almost short enough to avoid the padded out state of most gimmick comedy movies and really manages to maintain enough laughs throughout. Michael Caine perhaps plays it a little too broad at points but it serves as a counterpoint to Kingsley being utterly serious throughout. No one else really makes an impression, except perhaps for Mrs Hudson, but then Mrs Hudson always makes an impression. It's a requirement of the part. The inevitable role reversal at the end where Holmes is forced to solve the mystery, and in a very credible way based on his real identity, is in no way a stretch although the joke played on the ever imbecilic Lestrade seems a little too mean at the end. In many ways, the finale where Watson reconciles with his own creation is - perhaps accidentally - analogous to Conan Doyle's reconciliation with his own sometimes-hated creation. That parallel had never occurred to me before, and is quite interesting.

Apparently Michael Caine was criticised quite heavily for his choices of projects over his career, mixing total bilge ('The Swarm') with minor classics ('Educating Rita') but on the whole his average is good and far better than some others (<cough> Ben Kingsley <cough>). This is definitely a solid movie, fun, sometimes silly but never stupid and with a fine supporting cast. In may ways it was one of the last genuine comedies, followed perhaps by a few comedic fairy tales by Rob Reiner, Harold Ramis and Ivan Reitman. Hopefully in the future there will be more. Taken as part of a pair with 'Dirty Rotten Scoundrels' we see Caine at his comedic best in this era.

Go on, watch 'Without A Clue', it's not a classic but it's funny and won't offend anyone. Also, it's got Sherlock Holmes.


Friday, 24 August 2012


"I say inspector!", cried the doctor, "the patient seems to be reviving!" The eccentric doctor in the mustard coat and blue hat, took a stethoscope out of his hat. "By George! Pulse is stabilising!" Lowering his voice he continued. "It's as if he's been cured by causes unknown."

The Inspector turned a smokey glare on the doctor. "So this is no longer a death scene? Good. I'm tired of crime scenes." He stomped gently and quietly into the next room, while the patient's eyes began to flicker. Then they opened. Words began to murmur from his mouth.

"Don't worry, sonny Jim," soothed the doctor, "you'll be fine now. Can you tell us what happened?"

"I just e-mailed my final thesis for printing. I think..." the patient shuddered for a moment, "I think I was free for the first time in five years..." As a beatific smile spread across his face, the patient closed his eyes and began to peacefully snore.

From just beyond the kitchen doorway, the Inspector came in quietly and smiled. "Who found him?"

"It was the landlady. It's almost always the landlady in these cases." The doctor put the patient into a more comfortably position, and straightened. "I think it's time to go. His girlfriend can keep an eye on him now."

"Righty ho. Good job, Doctor."

The two departed, leaving the now former student asleep on his bedroom floor.


'Reductionism: a theory that all complex systems can be completely understood in terms of their components'

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Aimless meanderings

shim: a thin wedge of material (wood or metal or stone) for driving into crevices
circularly: in a circular manner

What do you do when you actually (almost) reach the end of an epic odyssey of a PhD? Well, it's a mystery to me! Ah, mysteries in life endure beyond all reasonable limits when you're me or a three-headed monkey. Perhaps it's like driving a shim (yes!) into a surface you're climbing and all the success is in making it to the point where you have to drive another in. And that's where the analogy stops because we all know where the climb ends. Sigh.

The last week has been a hazy time of final thesis corrections, python calculations on Project X, article writing, job hunting and Drift City. I'm becoming convinced that 'Drift City' is the only online game I really like. There's very little violence and it's mostly just car driving and dodging traffic, and it's rather enjoyable. It would be really nice to beat the tiny two percent rate of success at upgrading my dinky metro but it may take another twenty to thirty attempts! Ah, 'Drift City'.

Sometimes blogs go circularly. ('Huzzah! Bring the magnetic hat and the cannonball!') Sometimes it's hard, and sometimes you just have no idea what to write. On these instances, write nonsense! Gibberish! Look around and talk about the wallpaper, which is white with some marks. I'm listening to a fan commentary on 'Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut' and thinking about sleep. It's interesting, and also circular, and really something to be considered over and over. What's interesting? And does this thing need to be interesting? ('No, that's the recalcitrant sponge! Noooooo!')

What's next? The Whirling Dervish strikes!

Oblivious Oliver.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Movie: 'Popeye' (1980)

(AKA "Distorted time and the weirdness that is 'Popeye'")

Is it possible that life on a constant diet of 'The Incredible Hulk', 'Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea' and 'Man from UNCLE' dvds as well as 'Sensational She-Hulk' comic books is warping my sense of time and space? If we add the long hours spent playing 'Drift City' does it make it any more credible? Hmmm. How can it be a Friday? Let's review a movie.

'Popeye' was made by auteur director Robert Altman and released in 1980. It is a movie that is adapted primarily from the comic strip by Segar and the classic cartoons from the Fleischer studious in the 1930s and 1940s, and represents one of the most faithful cartoon adaptations ever to make it to cinema. This faithfulness or fidelity to the source material is both it's virtue and it's failing. Robin Williams gives a classical impression of Popeye the Sailor Man but seems lost in a sea of mannerisms in a meandering plot, while Shelley Duvall is similarly stellar as Olive Oyl but is stalled under a conflict of character and plot. Everyone else is accurate if a little bland in their roles, with the weakest parts being those of Bluto and Poopdeck Pappy (Popeye's father). Bluto especially is miscast and strangely silent and angry for someone so loquacious and cunning in the cartoons. Poopdeck Pappy is just plain crazy.

Perhaps it's best to start with something overwhelmingly positive about this movie: The production values are incredibly good, and the production design is amazingly scenic. If it were all a little more colourful it would be perfect. Perhaps that's the problem with the movie, as it feels like everything needs to be more colourful.

The main problem, and I hold this to be in common with the few Altman movies I've seen, is the lack of depth to the movie. It essentially runs as a series of sketches with bad connectivity and wonky musical interludes. There are sight gags aplenty but not enough of a narrative thrust running through. There's more of a narrative thrust to 'The Incredible Hulk' episode running to my right, despite the blatant man in a gorilla suit. I'd like a gorilla suit. Anyway, this 115 minute has all the plot of maybe two 5 minute old cartoons and that's the problem. Repeating catch phrases ad nauseum and sticking massive forearms on Robin Williams does not a movie make.

What about the lead character? He's a cipher throughout all this, interacting barely at all with anyone else, muttering and singing odd songs and swinging massive forearms with little consequence. In fact, even in the seemingly massive truncated final showdown with Bluto he seems under-represented on screen and the iconic spinach sequence occurs off screen and underwater! UNDERWATER! We don't see the spinach sequence! Perhaps in 1980 it would have looked ridiculous but I think the main problem was that Popeye already was stylised through most of the movie when perhaps he should have looked more normal and then bulked up for the final spinach sequence. We don't see the spinach sequence.

Overall, this has the seeds of an excellent movie. Robin Williams and Shelley Duvall could have carried a blockbuster but ultimately there's not enough story, there'e not enough colour, the songs are dull and we don't get pulled through as we would in a good movie. Perhaps they needed Bill Bixby and a man in a gorilla suit.


Monday, 13 August 2012

Yes yes, and what if the world is made of cheese?

Hello, hello, hello. What does it all mean then? What does what mean? What do you mean by that? What is 'what' and what does it 'mean'? Sometimes making sense takes far too much effort!

The random word generator just spat out my motivations for this entry and they are:

- westernmost
- scathe
- pairings
- pimply
- disincentive.

None of those fill me with inspiration except perhaps for 'disincentive: something that makes you not want to do something'. We are all commonly and routinely exposed to one disincentive and that's fear. Why am I not applying to as many jobs as I could? Fear, amongst other things. Why do people talk to people remotely and wander into forums and games on the Internet? Fear, and security through anonymity. Hey, I love anonymity, but it can be habit forming. We're humans, so everything is habit forming in the most horrific way. Look, it's a giant rodent! No, don't look, it's habit forming. Oh boggle, not looking is habit forming too. Who is that strange blue blob riding it like a rodeo bull? Sometimes you've just to love the madness of it all.

Writing is habit forming, but it's a habit that's incredibly easy to break. You just have to push it through until it becomes a fact of life. Make up a disincentive against stopping. I'm worried there might be a tsunami if I stop before it's done. Argh. What a pairing. Sometimes words are just a prompt to not use words. It's better to write than be lonely!

According to legend (must stop using that phrase), the world was made by cheesemongers and put out accidentally instead of a titanic piece of gouda. Unfortunately it was too late to take it back and the world was sold to a man at half price who put it in the back of his white transit van and drove off to dump it somewhere as a galactic tax write off. On the other hand, the titanic gouda went on sale the next day unfortunately after cheese was outlawed in three of the four quadrants of the galaxy. The fourth quadrant was populated by sentient cheese and got an exemption. So where does this babbling leave us? Well, with a quadrant of sentient cheese millions of years ago.

That might be a good place to stop. I hope there's not a tsunami. I don't like tsunamis.

<Crosses fingers>


Note: Title is an almost quote from the movie entitled 'The Core'. It's terrible and somehow just a little bit wonderful at the same time. Don't watch it with your snarkiness turned on.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Saturday night, slightly crazed

Now, who said there were no accidents? It was probably a psychiatrist of some sort. As 'The Core' whirs away in the DVD player to the right and I tap away nonsense, I can say for a certainty that there are NO ACCIDENTS! I have no justification for this statement but I hold it to be axiomatic: A self-evident truth.

But why speak in such terms, and why be so graceful in terms of little meaning to anyone on a daily basis? It's a feeling, such as those that come upon you in the wee small hours of the morning. No failure so vast nor success so uplifting is ever truly an accident, and to this we must hold fast even with the rubbery grip of eternally tired.

Is it an accident we don't make it through job interviews? No. Is it an accident when a leaf drops and breaks the rail system? No, that's the world! Do good and bad books and movies happen by accident? No! It's all wonderful! I think I might be sleep deprived. This post doesn't make any sense. Have I mentioned Clomp von Clomp, that mischievous eternal creep that keeps popping into my stories and messing up his own evil schemes? No, good, that would be weird and might deter people.

Ah, the joys of blogging in a vacuum. In the next week I need to write about the 'Popeye' movie, redraft thesis and articles some more, job hunt, go to the radio station and make a podcast, correspond with people after a lengthy lull and somehow not go crazy!

Crazy crazy crazy. Moooo!

Oblivious Oliver.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Diatonic and verdant?

Diatonic: based on the standard major or minor scales consisting of 5 tones and 2 semitones without modulation by accidentals

Verdant: Describing an abundance of green foliage.

Hmm, two words of the day and neither immediately compelling some kind of writing impulse. What can be made of it? Perhaps that life is music and that when played on the correct scales it can be full of foliage and joy?

<Pauses for thought and maths>

Music is often in line with life and sometimes you need to get in line with music, but music never gets in line with you. A sudden spurt of Rachmaninov or Bach can realign you with your proper rhythms in a matter of moments and then you'll feel the thrill of a verdant life despite your troubles. And troubles there can be plenty of at times.

As job hunting recommences, thesis corrections head into a new draft, the 'Popeye' movie of 1980 dawdles on and writing sustains itself it becomes time to think of lighter things. Gosh, 'Popeye' feels long.

Now, for more than a hundred years we of 'Radioactive Rubber Band Incorporated' have been marketing radioactive rubber bands and have asked for little in reward. Did we complain when Wicket USA stole our bestselling slogan? No. Did we moan when nuclear elastic used the same pigment? No. We of RRB take pride in never having sold a single item, and in being totally made up.

Now, if any of that were true we'd be in a far funnier world! As it is, Bluto has just brought up some treasure, there's an octopus in the grotto and Olive Oyl has been trapped in a free floating detached ship tube. It's all very bizarre and not in the bizarre 'Plan 9' way either.

What can be next? Tune in to more of this gibberish if you dare, next time, in the same place and hopefully for a better reason!


Sunday, 5 August 2012


After a week of Olympic ladies basketball and corrections it has become hard to know what to do with spare time. Olympic jadedness set in with the Britain v France match on Friday night, where the score was 77-77 with three seconds of overtime left before France bagged a long long three pointer. Bye bye Britain. There won't be many better games.

Hmm, on spare time... there is no spare time with an interview in two days! Lots to read in preparation. It looks like an exciting project!

<Come on Croatia! You can beat Turkey!>

The word of the day is 'connectedness'. It's a funny word, a noun which referring the extent to which things are connected. As humans we require a certain amount of connectedness to survive, the level of which varies from person to person. Most interpersonal problems are related to the amount of connectedness combinations of people require. Also, tangentially, a domain is connected if all points inside can be reached from any other point inside via routes which are solely inside the domain. Clunky definition I just made up there.

Connectedness is important. Interestingly the individual's required level for connectedness varies over time. Some acquire greater requirement and some lose. Perhaps it needs practice, or perhaps we need different things at different times.

Pensive Oliver.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Movie: 'Escape To Victory' (1981)

'Escape to Victory', a World War II prisoner of war escape soccer movie. A fusion involving Michael Caine AND Sylvester Stallone from 1981. A movie directed by the legendary John Huston of 'Maltese Falcon' fame. A living contradiction and enthralling manly mass of footballers pretending to act. In short it's a modern classic that defies genre, and one with an unusual turn near the end. That turn determines how you'll react to this movie. It will either tip you over into disbelief or reaffirm your belief in silly movie magic. In short it's all about the moondust.

So, a proposed football match between some prisoners and guards gets taken up by the Nazi propaganda machine and built up into a German Reich versus Allied Forces trophy match, and the Allied Captain Colby (Caine) goes from a position of bargaining better rations for his players to being under threats and charges of collaboration unless he and the team escape. Grumpy Canadian Hatch (Stallone) escapes to Paris but then is forced to get recaptured and sent back to the camp to get the team's instructions back to them. At half time, and at 3-1 to some blatantly cheating Germans with the help of corrupt referees, the team are in the locker room and heading into the tunnel with their injured when the turn comes.

'Hold on, we could win this.'

Yes, they were almost free until someone said that. Colby takes up the call and they go back with an incredulous Hatch, facing down the crooked Germans and finally level at 4-4 with the injured Pelé scoring the equaliser and Hatch preventing the German penalty for victory. The second turn is even more cheesy but just as good, the Parisian crowd floods the ground, and carts off the players in their midst and they all escape and screen fades to red.

This movie is a joy, and even though it's cheesy and there's gurning evident in the second half of the soccer portion it's still lovely and overwhelmingly stupid in places. Good show on an ironic piece of entertainment, Mr Huston.

Pros: Caine in personable form, Stallone in a very controlled performance, a bearable football portion (I dislike soccer), the score, Max von Sydow's performance in Paris portion.

Cons: Caine's character Colby really is collaborating in a sense, Stallone's solo portion is a little flat.

Almost quotes: "Terry scored a goal!", "This game is important to us, Hatch. Please."