Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Book: 'Hopscotch' by Brian Garfield (1975)

Some nights ago the dreaded insomnia struck and I profitably used the time to finish the enjoyable 1975 spy thriller 'Hopscotch' by Brian Garfield, which is not to be confused with the more comedic film adaptation he co-wrote for 1980. I actually like that film, mainly because of the mysteriously cool presence of the late Walter Matthau. That man could have held any movie together in his pomp. I will not be doing a comparison between the movie and the book though, as the tones are different and I don't have the DVD. Quick, someone, send me one!

Let's segue to plot. In 'Hopscotch', a veteran Central Intelligence Agency operative called Miles Kendig is retired from active duty to a desk job with the only alternative being total retirement. Taking offence he sabotages his records and quits, searching for some meaning in a life that holds no challenges or risks anymore. Finally, after some ennui, he does what an unhappily retired action man does and makes a new game, threatening to out the leading intelligence agencies of the world with a new book disclosing all their underhanded acts. Hence Kendig's role in his new game is that of the quarry. Can he survive the eventual endgame, and then what will happen after?

My overriding impression is that this is an impressive novel, of comparatively little depth but with some teased character development. Kendig moves from a state of sickened boredom and aimlessness to someone with the self-control and presence to live again away from what he's known before, perhaps find love, and direct his own activities in life. Kendig's arc is somewhat coupled to that of the CIA agent assigned to catch him, his former protegé Joe Cutter, who was played so nicely by Sam Waterstone in the movie. Cutter is the second lead of the story, the sympathetic pursuer that ultimately doesn't want to succeed but will go for it anyway just because he's a professional. Ultimately it's that conflict that lets him sign off on Kendig being dead at the end (in the movie especially) despite the doubts he must have. He knows. Cutter represents one element of the CIA, Kendig's part, while their boss Myerson represents the 'dirty tricks' brigade with the real motivation to catch the rogue. At the time there were real media tensions with the CIA, and something called 'The Church Enquiry' which lent a lot of topicality to books such as this.

As 'Basil The Great Mouse Detective' whirs away on the television, and I begin to sum up, I find myself slightly mixed in my feelings on this book. It's not so technically good as or as oddly enthralling as 'The Spy Who Came In From The Cold' by Le Carre but I believe that I'm far more likely to revisit it than that Cold War classic. Perhaps it's down to the movie connection, or the paucity of spy novels in my collection, but I believe there's something more. This novel won the Edgar Award of 1976 and I believe that the solid balance of the narrative between Kendig and his old agency, as well as the mild character development, the tug of loyalty that makes Cutter a believable agent, and the wonder at how Kendig can finish the game and survive all make it perfectly worthwhile. It's hard to not picture Herbert Lom whenever Soviet spy chief Yaskov is featured though, or see the Waterstone twinkle in Cutter's lines. The only one who's hard to associate with the novel character is Kendig himself, who varies much in tone between the two versions.

Summing up, this is a great bestseller spy novel, and one I shall return to again and maybe even again. It's slick and sleek, shallow but fast, and a novel for those days when you can't face something far far harder.


Monday, 29 October 2012

Movie: 'The Core' (2003)

I like 'The Core'. This is my indecent admission, a confession of sorts. It's not the greatest movie but I like it anyway. Some people say it's a blatant ripoff of 'Armageddon', but I haven't seen that movie so I wouldn't know. What I do know is that the cheesiness of 'The Core' makes it endearing in a way that I don't see in any other movie. Long before the sarcasm provoked by the term 'Unobtainium' in 'Avatar', we find that material here. Long before Aaron Eckhart struck it big in 'The Dark Knight' or Stanley Tucci started making big waves they were here, as was Hilary Swank! It's a fabulously cast movie, and the actors should really do better than they do but the tone is gloriously cheesy and you buy it. Maybe it's the British sensibility of the director Jon Amiel winning me over to this tosh.

The plot, as much as it matters is this: The molten core of the Earth has stopped spinning and the planet's electromagnetic field (shield) is breaking down and will result in the world being burnt to a crisp by the Sun. As that shield begins to break down our hero Joshua Keyes spreads the news and ultimately ends up as the de facto leader of a mission to the core to restart the rotation via a nuclear detonation. He's de facto because Bruce Greenwood's pilot is going to inevitably be bumped off first, the first in a sequence of deaths at very regular intervals that ultimately leaves Joshua and Hilary Swank's Bec Child as the only remaining people. The crew is even eliminated in order of actor notoriety which makes it even hammier but I don't care because I like 'The Core'. Finally, at the middle of the world, after some political shenanigans at the surface and numerous realisations about things that have gone wrong and then the associated solutions, the world is saved and the two survivors are stuck there. Or are they?

It's a dopey movie. I like a lot of the science not making sense. I really like Tucci playing the worst cliche of an egocentric physicist who'd sell his mother for prestige and stole research from the mission ship's designer 'Braz', resulting in comical tension between the two. The dialogue is amazing, seemingly prepared in a drama workshop in a community college but delivered by classy actors, and totally ridiculous as a consequence. In many ways it's the opposite to the awesome dialogue of 'Joe Versus The Volcano'. I've used 'soul sick' ever since seeing that movie. Oh, that's a brilliant movie but is not to the point of 'The Core'.

Perhaps the overriding problem of 'The Core', even though I like it, is the convenience of the sequential deaths, of Zimsky's old project causing the problem to begin with, of Zimsky having bad history with Braz, of Bruce Greenwood giving the inspirational speech to Bec and then dying, of there still being a way to get to the surface even with the nuclear reactor gone, of Rat the Super Hacker making the final realisation about the whales, and finally of the French crew man Serge giving the wise words that allow everyone to not buckle under the pressure.

Technically it's an excellent movie, with brilliant effects and sound and a score by Christopher Young that is mildly acclaimed. Oh, if only it weren't associated with a movie that Mickey Mouse could credibly pop up in in a cameo.

Anyway, I will recommend 'The Core' and destroy my credibility in the process. Watch it, there's a good chance you'll hate it, but you might develop the same perverse love for it that I have. I like 'The Core'.

Thank you for your time.

I did it! I finished the piece on 'The Core' that has been in progress for three weeks! This is the fourth version! Gonna do a little dance now!

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Daylight Savings Time

I try to immerse myself in positive views, and occasionally succeed, but there is one thing that I really do not like: Daylight Savings Time. I know it must be helpful somehow and there's a reason why we still do it but I hate it. I spend the whole summer aware of it like a beanbag that needs stuffing, correcting every time I see back to the actual 'real' time. It's a constant niggle, stealing energy and concentration. I wish there were no Daylight Saving Time. And now the DST is over it's winter, so seasonal depression can take its place. Blast!

Moving on, it seems as if the world is spinning, spinning, spinning and words are randomly spinning out! It seems so easy to do the random word entry but it's hard really. It's an exercise in psychobabble, pretentious metaphor and the great cheese experiment which may not share its name.

1 The sudden formation and collapse of low-pressure bubbles in liquids by means of mechanical forces, such as those resulting from rotation of a marine propeller.
2 The pitting of a solid surface.
3 (Medicine) The formation of cavities in a body tissue or an organ, especially those formed in the lung as a result of tuberculosis.

Cavitation in marine propulsion has been a very important effect, a distortion spread behind a moving submarine and boat which scrambles passive sonar which you can then use to your own advantage. In an analogous sense on a real world scale we see that we all cause cavitations by our passing. In many ways we are more attached to more distant memory than recent memory as the recent memory is obscured by emotional cavitation causing all kinds of distortion in our psyche. We bob up and down in the disturbance, unable to see in the bubbly area until it moves further behind and the bubbles settle. How much better it might be if we were uniformly connected to our memories, operating on a cavitation-free propulsion that leaves us cool and smooth at all times... Or how much duller! Our emotional cavitation allows us to operate and make decisions spontaneously and in isolation from the things that would render us predictable all the time. I need my cavitation; it makes me real!

Finally, the new Film Bin Commentary is up at filmbin.podbean.com and is on the indescribable kickboxing movie of the 1980's: 'No Retreat, No Surrender'. I advise you watch it at your own risk; It's BAD! Next time it will be 'Innerspace', a veritable would-be classic with Robert Picardo and his elastic face! Or did I imagine that?

Pinging down to sleep. Good luck, everyone, as it's Monday tomorrow!


Thursday, 25 October 2012

Codes and bugs

Debugging code is a pain, a neverending cycle of detail and diagnoses that never ends. Finally, after looking for days and perhaps weeks on end, you discover it's not a typo or bad code but rather a logical failure from you that has caused all the trouble. That is the nature of applied mathematics, and it's the reason why we all go mad doing it. The madness of programming gets into every pore. If it weren't for the fact that the result is a fascinating and wonderful simplified version of reality (or total dross) it would be a total waste of time for all concerned.

Recently I have begun to learn a new programming language for my mathematics, the new-fangled Python 3, and it hasn't been a total nightmare at all. While pursuing my PhD at Nottingham we had access to the proprietary software MATLAB, and when I finished I was dreading the conversion but it turns out to be very similar. The only problem is that the plotting module hasn't been updated up to Python 3 yet, so it's third party time for all you plotters or a journey back to Python 2! I also use FreeFEM++ but can't talk about it as it almost destroyed my mentality on any number of occasions and haunts me still. There's more documentation and a forum for FreeFEM++ now though (mutter mutter), making it much nicer. Go to Python, people, go!

Still, I guess some people don't come here to read about bugs and coding, and the joys of Python. They don't care that the new version of Minecraft came out today or even that I would argue that 'The Red Headed League' is perhaps the best Sherlock Holmes story, or most memorable at least. I shall therefore segue into something totally random.


claque (noun): a group of followers hired to applaud at a performance
peculate (verb): appropriate (as property entrusted to one's care) fraudulently to one's own use

It seems obvious to me that it is very unwise to entrust your own claque to a friend lest they be irresponsibly peculated. Alas, it was a common occurrence in Music Hall and Vaudeville and ultimately led to the downfall of John "The Sergeant" Smithelbaum who was lynched by a group of former friends and colleagues and hoist on his own petard so high that passing zeppelins would honk in passing.


Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Movie: 'The Lonely Guy' (1984)

(Replacing 'LA Story' which I just couldn't write about, even if it did have a magical street sign reincarnated from some bagpipes.)

What an odd movie, and an oddly endearing one too. How can something so odd, and so potentially depressing, be so good? True it has some major flaws, and I'm the cynical person to point them out, but it's also nice. Very, very nice.

Steve Martin is (or was, if you prefer) in that bracket of performers who are so intrinsically and basically funny that they shouldn't be given funny things to do. They do normal things in a funny way. Anything determinedly funny pushes them over the hill into pantomime land. And this really is a movie where Martin can exploit that to the hilt in his most brilliant straight-faced way. I'm not even a fan of the man but he could play it straight and simultaneously funny better than anyone alive.

At the core, this movie is a balm to all the lonely people, or people who have been lonely, and for whom life seems hopeless and grey without companionship and colour in their lives. Martin plays a greeting card writer called Larry who's dumped by his nymphomaniac ballerina girlfriend, falls into deepest solitary dudgeon with only the companionship of new friend and veteran lonely guy Warren (played masterfully by Charles Grodin). It's all played for laughs and yet is somehow very reassuring. Being lonely is a horrible thing. I've been lonely for long stretches of my life, am lonely now, and may well be so in periods of the future but it's not so bad really. Warren and Larry are winding themselves up into knots of anxiety where none need to exist. Thanks to the movie for helping those desperately lonely people know that they're not alone in being lonely, and I'm saying that with a straight face.

So, to the plot, Larry is dumped, meets Warren, tries some desperate things to meet women, finally meets a woman called Iris and losing her phone number, before an erratic relationship begins that he almost kills himself over during one of the troughs, and the eventual happy ending. Warren almost jumps off a bridge too in depression but fortunately they're the leads and don't join the legions of lonely guys who are dropping dead in this movie. Black humour roars bleakly in purple batches of brilliance, but the romantic subplot threatens to sink the whole thing in the final thirty minutes as it makes no sense whatsoever and was probably added to make up the running time for the movie. Martin is excellent as Larry, playing it straight wherever possible. Grodin is wonderful as Warren, once you get over the initial shock of how depressed and miserable the character is, and everyone else is solid in support.

I should quickly mention narration, the unsteadiest moments of the whole film are in the opening narration before Martin takes it over as Larry. I could imagine some people never making it past that. It gets better!

I like it. You need not be lonely if you watch 'The Lonely Guy', and please remember that fake sweat does not do the job.


On a related note
It's kind of sad that in this era of incredible interconnectedness people seem far less able to stand being along than in previous decades. Even I, with my rebellious independence, lean heavily on e-mail at times and this blog itself is an act of self-expression. Still, I think everyone can learn from some solitary time without phones and Internet, armed with only some sticks and a cauldron.

On the joys of air conducting

When life is hopping around you, jabbing and weaving, or has nothing to offer except a meaningless jumble of nothing dressed up as boredom then we must make room and time for ourselves and resort to extreme recreational activities. In my case this can only mean air conducting to romantic classical music in the dim dark evenings.

Oh, how the joy and emotion can flow as you hold your massive tourist pencils and wave them to the orchestral pieces that flutter and swarm in the air around you, eyes closed and senses open the great harmony of the universe. There is nothing quite like air conducting at the end of a day where stress and nerves have taken their toll and you feel like a wet blanket that could snap at any moment under the unendurable tension. Arrhj! Just the smallest piece of pencil waving can take it all away to a small place, far far away (in Hong Kong), and leave you mellow and happy to sleep.

The joy of air conducting has been controversial ever since the studies of Schmeer and Klockle contradicted each other on the perils of air conducting to the unconscious mind. Schmeer, who was an avid pencil waver, contended that the unconscious mind could only benefit from the spare time to decompress and happily get along with its chores, lowering the tension load on the psyche. Klockle, whose pencil collection was second to none in his adopted city of Buenos Aires, expressed concern that air conducting was addictive in the extreme and was to blame for the state of his arms, which had led him to four months of physical therapy at a clinic in Zurich in the late 1920s. These two would tussle on the subject in a series of 11 papers until Klockle won the debate by dying and achieving mandatory reverence for six months. Schmeer was furious and a little disheartened but never gave up his pencil.

Music to air conduct too is now freely available on a host of Internet radio stations and, of course, more conventional radio stations in your own countries. Do yourselves some favours, go on holiday and buy dopey giant pencils, and then air conduct for all you're worth. Venice Classics Radio is nice for it.

Thank you,

Someone +1'ed the post entitled 'Elaborate'. I think I might faint.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Story: 'Night Trials', III

Over the last few weeks I have been immersed in archive recording of 'Just A Minute'. The fiendish Nicholas Parsons has permeated into my very soul as he becomes ever more harried and heckled by the raucous Kenneth Williams. Oh, the infamy and hilarity! Clement Freud was pretty much a pantomime villain back in those 70s shows. Ah. When I was even younger than today (The Beatles must not invade my mind with 'Help!'!) I preferred 'I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue' but it's 'Just A Minute' all the way.

I love you, Radio 4!


Night Trials: Part III
(Parts II , IV)

Sheriff Bob awoke again and this time there was light, even though he wished the sight that had been restored to him could be more pleasant. The walls were coated in a blue ooze and even if that weren't enough the room was guarded. Zack Grindle looked over at the bamboozled lawman and grunted through his grizzle. "Stay down." A weapon was rattled in its holster and Bob reclined, thinking quickly and methodically, testing his bonds.

The bonds were tough and leathery and very thorough, and even if he could get free there would still be Zack and still the oozy walls with no aperture. What was going on? "Zack, what is that stuff? The blue slime?"

"Slime? What's slime?" Zack was not exactly the most educated of people, the closest thing that Wandering Yip had to a delinquent and apparently he was now warming to the role. "Just shut up."

"Slime, the blue sticky stuff, it's running down the walls!"

"Oh, they just use it to keep the place up to their 'standards', the oozers."

"'They'? 'Oozers'?" Bob was getting annoyed, even as he played the helpless captive seeking information.

"Yeah, the bozos from the other planet." Zack's dull gaze brightened for a moment. "They said they'd give me gold. A mountain of it."


"Yup. We've been invaded, fella, and noone's going anywhere."

Definitely to be continued.

Sunday, 21 October 2012


This is a placeholder post in actuality but the word 'Rhapsody' leapt off of a piece I was reading and I began to wonder what it meant. It's actually rather a nice word.

1 (music) a piece of classical music that is not regular in form and expresses strong emotion
2 a feeling of great enthusiasm, or the things you say or write to express this enthusiasm

to speak or write with great enthusiasm

Reflecting on this word rhapsody we see that it is a piece of music that represents real life, strong emotions being expressed irregularly and even spontaneously. Strong emotions inspire spontaneous actions, both negative and positive while weaker emotions motivate more organised thought and structure. Neither is worse than the other. Emotion is a fundamental motivation in our lives in both the long and short terms. Logic along can not motivate people to self-centred or selfless acts, it must be powered by altruism or vindictiveness or a host of other spikey/smooth things in our brains.

It must be nice to have rhapsody flowing in the blood. I don't think I've consciously ever listened to a rhapsody, but that surely can't be correct? Ah, it is not, for there is Rachmaninov's 'Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini' in the music folder. Oh gosh, Rachmaninov, there is nothing to compare to such bliss from the board of a piano.

Coming up we have pieces on the book 'Hopscotch' by Brian Garfield and the movies 'The Core', 'LA Story' and 'Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory'. For now there must be music, music and more music...


Thursday, 18 October 2012



Writing is great. You just keep on going, and write and write and eventually you hit a rhythm that sticks and suddenly you're off to where the world is a sunnier place and self-expression is done by a few key taps that rock your world. Everyone should do it. It's a remedy for seasonal depression that knows no equal other than a stiff walk at lunchtime while being pursued by the last remnants of a possee. Still, that leads into another story that can wait. 'Wait' is a verb of interesting simplicity and fundamentalism. There's no way to define it without using it, and so it's auto-defining? Fascinating. There must be many words which are defined by themselves and we haven't even considered that fact yet, at least not here in this forum.

Anyway, to write is to clear one's head and express one self on any number of topics, none of which needs to be relevant! It's marvelous, unless you intend to make a living of it, in which case you're facing a whole new situation. As 'Wacky Races' zooms onto the television next to me it seems appropriate to stop and think for a moment about what's been going on this week. What HAS been going on this week? I think for me it has been dominated by the Presidential debate that took place on Tuesday night. Crikey, it was nice to see the race evened up again after a brutally one-sided first event. Admittedly I am biased toward the blue Democrats but almost entirely because I dislike the tactics deployed by the Republicans. They're such bad boys I just can't stomach the idea of being nice to them, and in any case I kind of like Vice President Biden, who gave a good pummelling in the vice-presidential debate. Apart from that, something feels wrong and imbalanced. Something is missing.

Crikey, if you look up 'Wacky Races' on Wikipedia and scroll down you can see replicas of the cartoon's cars that appear at the Goodwood Festival of Speed. Amazing!

Where was I? Oh yes, something is missing and I feel somehow lost, as if the better part of my has been placed under a rock somewhere for storage until daylight hours begin to lengthen once more. Sigh.

A gorilla in a blonde wig and makeup is chasing Dick Dastardly and Muttley. Excellent! Enough silly blogging. The 'LA Story' review can wait! Greek practice shall supplant it. Nayahahahaa.


Movie: The Hunt From Red October (1990)

(This much delayed piece finally surfaces!)

'The Hunt from Red October' is a movie that is purest Connery at its heart which results in a schism in that it is also half about Alec Baldwin in one of his finest roles. That's right, Alec Baldwin is really good in this, and he gets overshadowed by one of the great screen presences, in this case playing a Scottish Lithuanian. It's marvelous, in a way, how Sean Connery has played Scottish variants of so many nationalities. In 'Highlander' he was a Scottish Spanish-Egyptian, in 'The Untouchables' a Scottish Irishman and in 'First Knight' a Scottish King Arthur. He's good in them all, and it's entirely down to his presence. The man radiates through cinema screens, and poor Alec Baldwin never stood a chance. Despite all this hyperbole this does represent his last iconic role before falling prey to the decline of the very concept of film icons in the 1990s.

So, back to this movie, which is an adaptation of the 1984 novel of the same name from Tom Clancy and is directed by John 'Die Hard' McTiernan. This is an example of what I believe to be a now extinct or near-extinct type of movie, name the thriller. Practically everything you see in contemporary times is really an action thriller, which is really just an action movie. Practically no action occurs in the whole movie, with the exception of a submarine dogfight near the end which is very reminiscent of 'Star Trek II'. Gosh, 'Star Trek II' is the movie that keeps on going.

In broad strokes and against the real-world backdrop of the Berlin Wall coming down and the perestroika rumbling through the Soviet Bloc, Connery plays veteran Soviet submarine commander Marco Ramius and decides to take the newly built 'silent' missile submarine with him to the US as he defects with his officers (barring the doctor) and unwitting crew, lest the boat be used as a first strike vehicle. Alec Baldwin plays the CIA analyst Jack Ryan who works all this out as the Soviet Fleet sails to stop the 'Red October' and its 'renegade' captain, and has to go into the field to negotiate the deal. That's the story, and it's a finely made movie too that just couldn't be sold now, as it's an independent style movie with a blockbuster's budget. That's what wrong with film making now but we know that already and move on.

In addition to the two main story strands of Ramius and Ryan, we also have diplomatic shenanigans (word chosen very carefully) in Washington, James Earl Jones doing some sneaking, and one of the Skarsgaard's being overly Russian on a second Soviet sub. What's left to be asked? Well, what's good and what's bad?

The casting is good, and even stellar, with Connery masterfully stealing scenes from allcomers despite never doing anything and Baldwin overperforming in a role for which he's ninety percent correct and ten percent too nice. That pretty much sums up the Jack Ryan character here: He's a very nice man. The plotting is very good and lifted almost completely from the book, with some simplification in the process, and is strong although long. The length is the rock that breaks the beaker, in that is too long for what it does, and could have been adapted more in what is becoming mantra for me. Adapt it more or adapt it less, people! Sam Neill plays one of Ramius's officers who is very nice and predictably gets killed in the Sam Neill fashion and there's plenty of tension deep under the ocean surface where noone can hear you scream... Actually it's easier to hear you scream under the surface, so there's plenty of tension deep under the surface where everyone can hear you scream.

Overall this is a fine movie which sits just a little quirkily off to the side of where it might best be placed, but it's a thriller and they don't make those any more, and what's more it's a man's thriller. Much as women appreciate 'Jaws' far less than men allegedly, so it is true for 'The Hunt For Red October'.

I like this movie.


Writing on a whim

In the absence of movies to review or books to write about, although 'Hopscotch' and 'The Hunt For Red October' are still in my queue, I think it is time to wax philosophical once more. Time indeed to swing the tortured wrecking ball of thought toward the leaning tower of preconception and take off a few turrets and garrets. Preconception are dangerous things. I had thought the paper I was writing to be easy, an editing down job, but instead it's a building up from ground piece. C'est la vie and c'est la guerre.

Writing something from a blank page is hard and always a worthy endeavour even if the result is only slightly more interesting than pumpkin pie. Oh what tangents can be flown off onto like passing flocks of starling or duck! Ducks are really quite interesting though, when you think about them: Flighted birds designed to exist equally on water as well as land, and even even dive for food. Ducks are amazing! It's amazing how many things are amazing if you stop to look at them. Look out the window and consider just how incredible it is that anything of what you see exists!

Thinking about some words generated randomly:
- cyclical: cyclical events happen again and again in the same order or at the same times
- lacrimal: of or relating to tears
- internalise: incorporate within oneself; make subjective or personal
we have a surprisingly connected sequence of ideas. What emotion becomes more ingrained or incorporated than grief and regret, and which is harder get rid of? It's fascinating sometimes. In fact, the grieving pattern is one of the most cyclical while the next most prominent anger pattern is exponential and explosive. I'm really talking complete nonsense, aren't I?

Oh, looking for jobs is one of the most interesting and heartbreaking activities, a constant exposure to work that could be vital and interesting and yet could well be held from you. Still, all of these jobs can yield fascinating ideas for future research.

Oh, will this Thursday ever end?!


Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Story: 'Night Trials', II

I was away last week. Getting back into the swing of writing is like riding a rhinoceros. There's a new, and even more incoherent Film Bin commentary up at
filmbin.podbean.com and I advise no-one to listen to it in any circumstance. Normal service will now be restored...

Note: Trying to consolidate four figures into a 2x2 array that will look good with a Kluwer LaTeX template is really horrid.

Night Trials: Part 2
(Parts I , III)

When last we visited, Sheriff Bob has passed out under the influence of the wavering green light that swept over the sedate and law-abiding frontier town of Wandering Yip. Twelve hours have passed.

Sheriff Bob opened his eyes and could see no difference. Wherever he was, it was totally pitch black. He stopped himself from panicking and closed his eyes again. At least then it was his own choice to be blind, and that was better to his own way of thinking. He was untied and free to move and sat up from his previous collapsed pose. He almost bumped his head but instead his shoulder took a jarring blow from a jutting shelf or counter of some kind. Had he been moved, he wondered? Wouldn't that be an odd occurrence?

It was still dark. How could he tell if he was blind or his surrounding were pitch black. He decided he couldn't and stepped slowly forward, arms stretched outward with the backs out so the fingers would bend in instead of out if he hit a wall of something worse. One step, two, three and then a hard surface. Feeling up and down he could find no aperture nor ceiling but the floor was wooden which reassured him greatly. He stepped back and investigated where he had lain, which had apparently been a thinly covered wooden slab with no significant comfort. Further examination of the space revealed a small room about four by five steps in area and with a ceiling out of sight. The walls were unremarkable but a faint breeze from above seemed reassuring.

`Curiouser and curiouser...' thought the Sheriff, `and very hazardous indeed.' He stood still and listened very carefully, hoping not to hear the rubbing of a snake's coils or other noises of dangerous critters. There was nothing except for the sound of his own slight breathing. Kneeling down he examined the floor by touch gingerly, not knowing what he may stumble across. After a moment he removed his bandana and wrapped it around a hand for protection. He found a totally unremarkable floor. How had he gotten in the room to begin with? Either he had been lowered in from the heights above or a wall moved?


The sound was sudden, loud, and came from just behind him and to his left. A slow snigger chilled his blood.

To be continued...

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Movies: Thoughts and spoilers for 'Premium Rush' & 'Looper' (Revised)

In the grand pantheon of bicycle chase movies [1], 'Premium Rush' will surely rank highly for decades to come. It's a bizarre hybrid of a movie that was held back for some time due to legal difficulties apparently and suffers from a mix of over realism and abortive emotional arcs. Ultimately, if you nickname your lead character Wiley Coyote you expect something a little more in the 'Wacky Races' category than what we get. Yet, and this is a genuine 'yet', in the shadow of 'Looper' this silly bicycle chase movie seems so much better. For, you see, I am the one person in a thousand that didn't like 'Looper'. 'Premium Rush' has an element of dopey fun to it, a seam that could have been so much richer, that 'Looper' could have had and exploited to the hilt and didn't.

There'll be more on 'Looper' later but for now we'll think about a bicycle courier in New York who has unknowingly been entrusted with the underground Chinese version of a credit slip for fifty thousand dollars and is delivering it to ensure a woman son is smuggled into the country to be with her. He's being chased by a crooked cop out to get the slip and repay his gambling debts or be offed, and Wiley is having troubles with his wavering girlfriend and a dopey rival courier. This is what unfolds as the movie goes on in its non-linear time structure, which is done very well, and we learn as he learns and tries to cut through the plot tangles. Oh, and there's a bike cop too, but he knows when to throw in the towel.

Maybe a good movie needs to have subtext, even the dopey cheesy ones, unless that's something I need more than I used to. Looking back on some of my favourite movies they do have subtext, something to make a nonlinear plot work on several levels instead of one. The times when 'Premium Rush' and indeed 'Looper' too worked best were when several layers were kicking on at once, and those were rare. On the whole though, the lightness of 'Premium Rush' makes it a far more enjoyable movie than 'Looper' with its po-faced seriousness and occasional gore. But oh, it could have been a much better movie if he pulled out the bike tricks earlier and Coyoted it a bit more, and if the cavalry rescue at the end were more exhilarating, and if we cared just a little more. Just a little more. Wilee emotional arc, such as it is, is coming to a realisation that one day he will have to suit up and use his law degree, eschewing the bike courier thrills. His love interest's arc is the reverse, that maybe she should enjoy things more, and the rival doesn't learn anything. Oh, and the bad guy ends up badder and then dead.

But why review these movies together? What is the unifying factor? Joseph Gordon-Levitt (JGL), the modern everyman, ties them together with solid and believable performances in each which never transcent into charismatic turns. This is the year of JGL, as we can put 'The Dark Knight Rises' on his roll too, and he deserves it but he almost needs to bring back some of the hamminess of '3rd Rock From The Sun'. He's solid and remarkable in his steadiness.

'Looper' is a funny film, rather gun-happy and bloody, and really not as complex a time travel movie as I'd like. In fact, there were many times where I was anticipating turns and tricks which the movie was too simple for. It seems as if we're in an era of po-faced serious movies and ridiculous comedies with nothing imbetween, as if everyday humour has been phased out of everyday films. It's as if the 70s came back and sucked out everything everything colourful from the 60s all over again.

Perhaps I was expecting too much from a movie about a hitman in a crime-governed future who kills people sent back in time from the even further future until the person sent back is himself and then it all goes splat. Guns, Bruce Willis, swearing and blood then ensue and the essential zaniness of a time travel movie is neglected. This is very much a Bruce Willis movie in spirit and it shows. It actually starts wonderfully as we see scenes from the different points of view and experiences of Young Joe (JGL) and Older Joe (Bruce Willis) and then it careens off the rails with its lack of heart. Again, and I harp on this too much, where's the heart! In lots of contemporary blockbusters where is the heart! In this movie, JGL's character starts off as a junkie jerk and ends up sacrificing himself to save the future and a small boy and yet we don't care about him. We actually care more about Older Joe in many ways, and that reflects on the charisma of Bruce Willis and I think on how we connect more to people who display humour. Perhaps that is what holds JGL back, in that he never gets to display humour. Thinking back on 'Inception', 'Dark Knight Rises' and these two movies he plays it straight and we don't care as much as we ought to.

I don't want to be too hard on 'Looper' though, as it's a technically excellent movie, with a really neat concept that just wasn't made in line with my sensibilities. That doesn't make it a bad movie, only one I don't like so much. The prosthetics applied to make JGL resemble Willis are kind of annoying and cut into his performance, the kid is pretty creepy, the story has a lot of potential for multiple levels which don't materialise, and it's all pretty glossy. In a way the detachment is due to Joe starting off as a selfish junkie but as he recovers we don't grow close to him as he humanises and instead remain distant. Hence any progress he makes doesn't feel real, and his final sacrifice doesn't really make sense. Old Joe's journey isn't a journey as he doesn't change his path at all and ultimately has to be wiped out. In a way, Future Joe could have had a brilliant arc, sacrificing his life and love, showing the watch to Present Joe, and sacrificing for the greater good. It could have been the final act of redemption for a selfish selfish person, and it didn't happen. Instead he's erased. Future Joe's erasure brings us to temporal mechanics.

Time travel in movies never makes sense and the paradox here is so enormous that it's really hard to explain away. JGL kills himself so BW doesn't come back in time to commit the act that wrecks the future. If BW doesn't come back then there's no reason for most of the film's events to happen and Joe continues on his original path and then BW comes back. This is the paradox. The easy way out is normally to say that future Joe has jumped into a new timeline and all his history is there in a separate universe. So future Joe is an extra-dimensional artefact and he's saving a universe not his own and that's why his own motivations and history and mission remains intact. That can't be though as present Joe is changing future Joe's memories and history and kills himself and himself. And that makse no sense. Neither an alternate timeline/universe not a pre-destined time loop and so nonsense. If future Joe is connected to present Joe then these monumental changes will totally alter his 30 years of interim life!

Time to sum up: 'Looper' is technically excellent with a cool concept but rather grim and glossy and will be popular with a lot of people. 'Premium Rush' is technically flawed, sillier, has dopey subplots but is slightly more fun for me personally. On the whole, go see 'Looper', but don't expect temporal coherence.

<Crikey, mammoth post>

[1]: Of which this is presumably the first. Subsequent note: There may be a movie called 'Quicksilver' featuring Kevin Bacon.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

'Gorgonzola' is not the saddest word

It takes a lot of effort to talk for the length of a feature length moving picture, even with company for the occasion. As a veteran of one fan commentary now it seems both impossible and still somehow fun. That's right... fun! I don't understand it but it was.

Let's do some random words.

Typecast: to always give an actor the same type of character to play
Defuse: to stop a bomb from exploding by removing its fuse
Umber: yellow or reddish brown in colour

What do those words bring to mind? Being typecast is not a problem that only occurs to actors and performers of other types. It happens to us all. If I say tomorrow that I don't feel like scrambled eggs for breakfast it's entirely possible that people will think I'm unlikely to ever want scrambled eggs and it will be worse the more I do it. However it could just mean I have a dicky stomach and don't want to tempt fate. Umber itself is rather a typecast colour, in that it's perceived be me at least to be rather dull or even nauseating colour to look at. Even the name is rather reddy brown: Umber. Ugh. Brown is a colour that's never appealed to me at all outside of the human pigmentations of course. (No racial issues here, people).

Somehow we all suffer from typecasting, but it comes from the internal rather than the external and is a form of self-limiting. At least half of the things we stop ourselves from doing are things we could do and probably easily, but we typecast ourselves. `Oh, I couldn't do that. I'm a terrible climber!' said in a jovial voice to defuse the question before it explodes into doing something we haven't done before. Sometimes we just go for it though and surprise ourselves and maybe those times aren't frequent enough.

Having mentioned 'defuse' once it now strikes me as the most useful word of the three, and a vital human skill in those who possess it: The ability to stop a human situation from escalating to the point of danger. Mediators, lots of policemen, some politicians and diplomats and probably far more professions who didn't spring instantly to mind. These are incredibly vital people who somehow end up in the jobs they were meant to do, and they do share a quality with the people who defuse bombs of the more literal kind: They go in and do it at the risk of their own skins.

Hmm, that was rather nice.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Additional note for 'The Seven Per Cent Solution'!

First it was reviewed and now it has a commentary. Welcome to the Film Bin, and our first movie is... 'The Seven Per Cent Solution'!

Please see Film Bin Commentaries for the file...