Friday, January 31, 2003

I want some snow.

Like this.

Monday, January 27, 2003

Brutal cradling, Elusive message, Uneven film
Eminem as 'Rabbit' in 8 Mile
The story is simple enough. 8 Mile presents: Eminem as you've never seen him before. Erm, hang on - that means 'Eminem as we've definitely seen him before, many times'. The master of the moody glare, the mellifluous rap and the lost-boy-loud-boy crossover. But this is a Curtis Hanson film. Curtis Hanson, the director of Wonder Boys and L.A. Confidential, is the last person I would have expected to direct a film like this one. But dammit, he makes it different to all the usual 'music star as film star' films you've ever seen.

And the signs are all there. For all the distinct change of scene from the old-police-stations Hollywood of L.A. or the suburban cosiness of Wonder Boys, the cinematography is still rich and disciplined without you realising it, and the passionate sense of place - in this case, the tumbledown Detroit - oozes from every frame.

Detroit's Michigan Theatre, now a parking lot
The plot follows, so spoiler alert!, don't read further if you don't what to find out here what you'll be able to guess after having seen the trailer. I don't mean that to be disparaging, but everyone, unless their head's been in a barrel for the past few years, knows who Eminem is and roughly how he dragged himself up the rap ladder. And everyone knows that, although Eminem isn't really Eminem in this film - he's 'Rabbit', a young white rapper who's been accepted by the black boys on the dodgy side of Detroit's 8 Mile - this story is nevertheless based around him. Around his story.

Rabbit hangs out with his friends. Rabbit is quietly determined, but appears in the film's opening shots vomiting down the toilet before a battle - a public rap sparring-match between two rappers competing for recognition from their peers. Later, he raps in a parking-lot (the amazing, evocative old Michigan Theatre, pictured left) in an impromptu conversation with a rival group of guys. His lack of security isn't quite pulled off by Eminem, though, and this is where the cracks start to appear.

Because although Eminem is very good at acting determined, his embarrassed Rabbit isn't embarrassed enough. But this is part of Rabbit, which it would take a better actor to deliver: Rabbit is weak, and aware that he's weak. He doesn't fall back on guns to make his point for him - none of the characters do, strangely, (post-9-11th-ally??) apart from one, who injures himself in a shot of poetic justice - but rap.

And that would be fine. But this is not a rap musical. It's a film. It Rabbit could really break into rap every time he got threatened and win through because of that, we'd know. But a savage beating scene gives the lie to that idea, and because of this, Rabbit's slightly-too-smooth edges don't seem right. They look right, though. Oh, yes. Because Eminem looks fantastic on screen - on that point I agree entirely with Rolling Stone. His fierceness shines, but a little too sparklingly at times. He's the angry boy with a soul, who finally gets his chance to flare in a battle, and wins through.

The final battle, when Rabbit wins out
In terms of this film, I'm not sure why I think it's a winner. I'm not sure why I think Eminem is a winner in it, despite his weaknesses. Maybe it's Eminem. Maybe it's Curtis Hanson. Who knows?

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

Sprawling, untidy inspiration
Martin Scorsese's latest film, which I saw a couple of nights ago, doesn't leave me with the impression that it was a crap film. I remember parts of it with pleasure, and others with the sort of wincing, guilty pleasure you feel at the end of a particularly nasty horror film. But I remember it. I am interested about the characters. If it had been substandard work, as so many people are saying, why do I feel this way?

Gangs of New York is undoubtedly sprawling and untidy. Salon points out that it's as if Scorsese had become lost in the grime-stained playground of his imagination for too long, wanting to revel in the multiplicity of characters (there are no computer-generated crowds, and the cast is huge) and the length of time it takes (nearly three hours). But I incline more towards the New York Times's review. To my way of thinking, the general epic scope is indeed akin to the films of DW Griffith, and there was definitely a feeling throughout the film that, while perhaps the shooting and scripting didn't always mould to a satisfying story like plasticwrap over glass, the style and scope was there to provide a spectacle in and of itself.

Many critics will disagree with me, I know. But I didn't even find Amsterdam, Leonardo Di Caprio's character, awful. Of course, he wasn't impressive. But then, he wasn't meant to be. Amsterdam, the son of the gang leader Priest Vallon (solidly and calmly played by Liam Neeson) who is murdered nastily at the start, only returns vengefully to the Five Points district after some years, and as such is like a fish half-in, half-out of the water at a time when he most needs to glide, silent and deadly, towards his intended victim.

William Cutting
His intended victim, William "Bill the Butcher" Cutting, is where the film really starts to fall apart and cohere at the same time. Dealing with the falling-apart first, Di Caprio can't stand up against older actors too well anyway, and Amsterdam isn't scripted to confront him. Instead, he woos him, scared, rather than waiting to reveal his hand. This isn't bad acting but rather a bad situation. (The worst most obvious slips Di Caprio makes during the film's entire length are slips of accent only.)

Now, to the coherence. Daniel Day-Lewis returns with one eye of porceain and one of glare and twinkle, and a voice which has been marinaded in bourbon, tobacco and grit for at least a few months. Standing so tall his character seems precarious, tottering badly at the end as intended, Day-Lewis is the true nucleus of the plot. Around his sun orbit Jim Broadbent, acting well as corrupt local politician William Tweed in his first Hollywood outing since Moulin Rouge, and John C. Reilly (of Magnolia fame). Cameron Diaz slips around tartly, thieving from the plush neighbourhoods before subsiding disappointingly into the story's love-interest, Jenny Everdeane.

All in all, it's sprawling, some characterisation is untidy, but it's not bad. People are used to thinking of Scorsese as a god who can do no wrong - or if not that, exactly, then at least as someone who is higher up there than most. So what if he wants to sprawl occasionally? Does that make this film bad, simply because of that? No. It's absolutely no worse than, for example, Gladiator. It's a lot better than The Two Towers, purely in terms of plot, characterisation and acting. And cinematographically, it's a dream. Before you buy into what the critics are all saying, go see for yourself. This is a big-screen must-see.

Saturday, January 18, 2003

Photos and Trivia
If you like London, go here, now.

Tuesday, January 14, 2003

There are several kinds:

1. Pointless conversation used first thing in the morning to wake you up. Usually takes place with strangers at bus-stops.
2. Inner monologue. If you're lucky, it's not so much talking as thinking, but if you're unlucky like I was, you end up thinking aloud in coffeeshops over the newspaper. And people look at you strangely, so you smile back, and they don't know where to look.
3. Tentative engagement. Usually used when you're in a room with strangers and you just want to get to know one or two of them. Every sentence is a stepping-stone which might slip on the riverbed and send you flying, but you still keep walking.
4. Fluidity. Can be verbal or written, and I've been having an enjoyable few sessions of this with a few people, including Chris, over the last few days. Nothing is an effort, and freedom and clarity usually result.
5. The kind that I've just heard coming from behind the bathroom door, where dad is probably seated on the porcelain. I don't know what he's saying, but it seems he talks to himself on the toilet quite a lot. I can't say I do. Do you?

Friday, January 10, 2003

First Snow!
But not here, in Belfast, sadly. However, I've just been kidding myself with ample resources from this snow gallery.
Look at this piece of glowing invective, from none other than The Pyongyang Times.

Notice that North Korea doesn't call itself North Korea (beware MSN pop-up). It calls itself DPRK - the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. There's a slight difference. (Obviously *South* Korea doesn't exist, then. Or not really, anyway.) I think it'd be an interesting place to visit.

Monday, January 06, 2003

Iraq: Liberation, Invasion or Colonization?
Dubya has been at it again. Think for a moment, he told us. Think about what Saddam has done. Think about what we can do for Iraq. And then you'll see that we won't be invading the country, but freeing its people.

A little premature, isn't it. Or is it? Nobody knows because, at the moment, America is the only country in the entire world which has said it's going in there sometime soon. It's true that Britain's Prime Minister is hawkishly keeping his eyes open, and kicked off 2003 with a speech full of dire warnings of worldwide threats to peace and security. (Threats to peace and security, incidentally, which are anything but war on Iraq.) So far, though, he hasn't said yes. His ministers, and others, are increasingly saying no. So, where does this place George W Bush?

In a word: alone. America is massing troops in the Gulf. Britain is due to send its biggest carrier there tomorrow, but even in a few months, its commitment of people and hardware would still be less than America's. There's a very good reason for that: no concrete plans have been made because, unlike the once-in-a-lifetime groundswell of world support for pursuing Osama and the Taleban in Afghanistan, nobody in the world knows why they want to invade - Saddam is not Osama bin Laden; there's no real world interest there. Apart from America, no single country anywhere even knows if there's any point to it, but all countries can see at least one glistening end-result: OIL.

Now, don't get me wrong here. I'm not suggesting for one millisecond that America just wants to boot Saddam up his hairy Arab crack and grab some black stuff. I'm really not. The American hawks do actually believe that a regime change would be beneficial to the country. Why they believe this is beyond me. Why would a population which naturally inclines to a multifarious, and sometimes violent 'clan-based' rule, possibly want democracy? They would have to take their place, and recognise their *responsibilities to*, and in, the wider world. America would allow nothing less. Of course, they'd all rather welcome Saddam's downfall because it would give them the chance to get that system established. Self-rule for Iraqis would mean a multiplicity of different local rulers. And yet the press has been so full of a single word, Iraq, that you'd almost be forgiven for thinking it's a single people.

Anyway, so what if they do or they don't have a change of regime. America doesn't like Saddam. America despises his filthy little moustache. Furthermore, the portraits of him in various heroic poses are almost as kitsch as the Stars and Stripes flying all over America. Get the shitty, weaselly sand-nigger off his perch and let's show the world we whupped his ass. Then, let's set up a postwar interregnum in Iraq, which we won't call a ruling council because that would give us too much actual responsibility, and let's make the interregnum as slow as we can so that we can get as much OIL as possible out of there.

Oh, come on Britain, you know you want to get in the car with us. Come oooonnn! :o) You'll like it, I promise. We suckee suckee. Aww, please think about it? We can't do it without you! Britain? Britain. I'm not going to ask again... Now. Get in the fuckin' car.

Sunday, January 05, 2003

Weapons of Mass Destruction
Each word or phrase which is over-used becomes one of the above against the power and magic of words. The top offenders on Lake Superior State Uni's list this year (showing just how much ordinary Americans hate Bush (thank-you, Jeeeee-zus)): Material Breach; Make No Mistake About It; Weapons of Mass Destruction; Homeland Security.

Today's quiz: what literary surname links together all items on the above list?

Answer: Shakespeare.

Yes, that's right. Because the Pentagon is slipping a copy of Shakespeare's racier war-based plays into its soldiers' backpacks before they get helicoptered, shipped and flown to Iraq. I ask the next question in all seriousness: why??
Am I turning American?
5 minutes ago, I typed 'That sucks' into a message to a friend on OUT. He wrote back and told me I'd written 'That sucks'. I stared in disbelief. No, I *couldn't* have written that! I went back through my history to check. And there it was. Since my friend is Canadian, he asked me why I'd said it - us 'brits' never say it, apparently.

Well, we do now. God help me.

Wednesday, January 01, 2003

And. . . . . ?
Perhaps unsurprisingly, because I'm sure this happens to a lot of people, I'm feeling rather unmoved now that we're in the aftermath of 2002 turning into 2003. Today, arguably, the internet is 20 years old, but other than the usual celebrations around the world, there's not much to say.

Today is, however, the first day of something a lot bigger (to me at least) than just another year: the appearance of Samuel Pepys' Diary online. Presented in the form of a blog, the diary will be put online at a rate of one entry per day. Pepys started the diary on the 1st of January 1660 and died in 1703. That means that we have about forty years to wait before the complete text is online, but it will be a valuable experiment in whether readers will actually come back each day, or for catch-up sessions, to read something on the web that they wouldn't necessarily have read on paper.

I really don't know what more to say. I usually feel underwhelmed by New Year things. I feel much happier that it's still Christmas!