Bizarre fact for a Tuesday morning

Tuesday January 7th 2014


It’s a little-known fact that Ron Reagan, son of 40th President of the United States Ronald Reagan, had a small role in the film Soul Man (in which C. Thomas Howell blacks up in order to qualify for a African American-only scholarship to Harvard Law School) while his father was in office. He’s pictured on the right in the photograph above as ‘Frank’, a Harvard student who conspires to get Howell on his basketball team because he’s black.

In today’s money, that’s Barack Obama’s 15-year-old daughter Malia popping up as an extra in White Chicks 2.


Netflix need to lose the star ratings and embrace the chaos

Monday January 6th 2014


I’ve just about tuckered myself out going on and on and on in praise of Netflix. Safe to say, I think it’s a brilliant service. Nonetheless, there are a few niggling oddities in the system — mostly hangovers from the company’s previous life as a DVD mailout service — that strike me as odd. The most obvious is their continued operation of DVD rental in the States, an absurdly archaic practice that they sensibly did away with when they began expanding internationally a few years ago. But equally worthy of reconsideration is an altogether more inconspicuous part of the Netflix experience: star ratings.

Star ratings are one of the things that finally convinced me to do away with my LoveFilm account, besides their hopelessly convoluted navigation system, pervasive advertising and insistence on making you speak to a guidance counsellor before they’ll allow you to cancel your account. It seemed as though every time I loaded up LoveFilm, I was being told what the 100 best movies of all time were, asked whether I’d seen the 12 most important documentaries of 2011, or ordered to rate Forrest Gump out of a possible five stars. If I’d wanted to turn my film-viewing habits into a competition, I could have just browsed through the IMDb Top 250 (which reminds me, let’s all watch Fight Club and City of God a few thousand more times shall we?)

LoveFilm’s entire interface seemed to be based on locating the best film available, and shoving it down your throat. Now is it just me, or is that precisely the opposite of what a streaming service should provide? Unlike a video rental store, where your £3.49 buys you a single film and therefore you have a certain amount invested in it being good, streaming services don’t call for deliberation. You can try out whatever you like, whenever you like, and for as long as you like. You might stumble upon something brilliant or you might not, but the level of commitment required is so small that it hardly matters. It’s a bit like watching a film on a plane: All rules are off, and the adventurer within each viewer is unleashed.

Hell, just look at my recently watched list…

(I will say that Too Cute!: Season 1: “Puppies & Ducklings” fully deserves its five stars.)

Netflix is exceedingly good at not discriminating between its ‘high-brow’ and ‘low-brow’ films. Scroll through a selection of horror movies and you’re just as likely to come across The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence) as you are Rosemary’s Baby. So it seems anachronistic that they still insist on branding everything with an indication of its supposed quality. What kind of feeble mind would eagerly load up Gaspar Noé’s three-hour psychedelic mess-terpiece Enter the Void only to renege at the last minute due to its two-star rating? Has anyone ever thought, “well, InAPPropriate Comedy looks like the worst art ever created by a human being, but I guess it can’t be all that bad if it has three stars on Netflix”?

Don’t get me wrong — I think people should be free to watch InAPPropriate Comedy as many times as they choose. (I’ve seen the inexplicable Lindsay Lohan framing device three times already.) But let’s not kid ourselves: the joy of a film like that — and the joy of most of the good, bad and impossibly ugly stuff on Netflix — is that it doesn’t matter how good it is, it only matters that it’s there.


THERE IS NO GOD

Saturday December 28th 2013


I’m going to Los Angeles next month. I’ll be there for a week. I return home on February 15th.

The following announcement was made this morning:

“On February 20th, Arclight Hollywood will play host to a 10th Anniversary screening of EuroTrip with a Q&A moderated by Kevin Smith.

Not only will writer-directors Alec Berg, David Mandel and Jeff Schaffer be answering questions, but the kids from the film — Scott Mechlowicz, Jacob Pitts, Michelle Trachtenberg and Travis Wester — are scheduled to attend as well. I’m also hearing that a handful of the film’s other co-stars, like the Green Fairy (Steve Hytner) and the Robot Man (J.P. Manoux), and the band Lustra, who sang the film’s iconic pop-punk song Scotty Doesn’t Know, will be there.”

I feel like I’ve not been invited to my own birthday party.


A festive afternoon with Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac

Friday December 20th 2013


Earlier this week, under cover of mild fog, I took the tube down to the Curzon Soho in Central London for a very special event, scheduled to begin at midday and run on until the streets outside would be thick with evening commuters. That’s right: Tuesday saw the UK’s first ever screening of Nymphomaniac, Lars von Trier’s wildly hyped, blogosphere straddling, hugely anticipated, gorgeously promoted new four-hour sex epic.

A special area had been cordoned off within the cinema, and inside, the great and good of Britain’s press, distribution, exhibition and PR industries had gathered, eagerly chomping down unusual pastries in preparation for the colossal task that lay ahead. I made idle chitchat in an attempt to suppress my overexcitement and then, having made the difficult and ultimately unwise decision to invest £4.75 in a large box of Curzon popcorn, I made my way into the auditorium and took a seat.

Since crossing the North Sea last week, Nymphomaniac has been stripped of the ‘Not Endorsed by Lars von Trier’ disclaimer that preceded each of its Copenhagen press screenings, but nonetheless there’s an odd sense of futility in knowing that the film you’re about to watch lacks more than a quarter of its director’s initial vision. Inevitably the unabridged cut will eventually be declared fit for public consumption (at least 50% will be shown at the Berlin Film Festival next year) in which case this shortened edition is perhaps Lars’s attempt at a practical joke — if critics are reluctant to sit through four hours of this shit, imagine how they’ll feel after a cumulative nine.

Whatever the case, this bite-size, 240-minute odyssey into one woman’s sexual identity is more or less an unqualified triumph. From the word go, Nymphomaniac is so utterly saturated with ideas — be they visual, thematic, symbolic, or unashamedly pornographic — that it’s nigh on impossible to get bored. Volume One alone features a woman masturbating with a set square, an aspect ratio shift, Shia LaBeouf’s cock, Christian Slater and a wipe transition. It’s the Movie 43 of art house sex films, complete with the requisite Uma Thurman cameo. And forget what you’ve read in every broadsheet review from here to Xan Brooks: it’s sexy as fuck.

Tuesday’s screening was interrupted at the two-hour mark by an intermission, during which I cornered someone from Artifical Eye and asked them what their plans were for the film’s release. There have been so many adjustments to Nymphomaniac‘s distribution strategy over the months and years that nobody seems entirely sure of how it’ll ultimately be seen by audiences, or whether Lars will ever get his full, unexpurgated cut into the open. Initial plans for the release of two five-and-a-half-hour films, one hardcore and one soft, have been entirely abandoned. Nonetheless, what Artificial Eye have got planned for March sounds like it’ll make the best of a situation that’s far from ideal for Von Trier diehards.

Perhaps hoping to insulate the audience against the coming onslaught, cinema staff were also giving out shots of some unknown intoxicant as guests returned to their seats. I foolhardily drank three and immediately felt impossibly wasted. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the first ten minutes of Volume Two remain a little fuzzy, although I do remember Udo Kier repeatedly saying the line, ‘were you not given any spoons?’

Like Kill Bill (again, Uma Thurman provides a handy bridge between Nymphomaniac and each of its pop cultural forebears) the film divides its volumes both chronologically and tonally. If the first part is the raucous house party, the second part is the strangely satisfying discomfort of the hangover. If Volume One is the one night stand, Volume Two is the odd dichotomy of the morning after. It’s after the intermission, for instance, that we see Shia LaBeouf grow into this guy:

Luckily, Volume Two is also where the film comes completely into its own. Nymphomaniac expresses a countless number of ideas that have hitherto felt almost entirely unrepresented in popular culture, and does so with an effortlessness that seems to chide other, lesser films for not getting there first. Everything from the practicalities of double penetration, to the unlikely heroism of pedophilia, to the inherent slut shaming of so-called sex addiction treatment, is given due consideration here, and in a week that’s also seen the release of Beyoncé’s spectacular new feminist opus BEYONCÉ, Christmas has come early for women who like having sex and dislike being thought of as the devil’s spawn for doing so.

At the same time, Nymphomaniac is far from an exercise in easy liberal validation. For every moment I spent mentally deifying Lars von Trier for his artistic bravery, I spent another wriggling uncomfortably in my seat. For every instance I felt my hands spontaneously drawn together as if to applaud, there was another in which I felt physically queasy.

When the film finally came to an end, survivors gathered in the lobby, huddled around mugs of mulled wine and locked in fierce debate. Such a scene will no doubt be replicated in foyers across the UK come March, as cinema managers struggle to get audiences in and out of their seats in time for each mammoth showing, and audience members who’ve already witnessed the spectacle struggle to make sense of life after Nymphomaniac.


Here’s the first poster for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and the poster for its predecessor

Wednesday December 11th 2013


The ape is a bit bigger on the new one.


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