Sunday, June 27, 2010


They catch little fish here using nets. Traffic zoom past on a motorway 10 yards away.

This wide horizontal format is increasingly interesting to me: the way the eye becomes obliged to read horizontally across the image (in this case, Islamic style from right to left). I think i shall play with this more: makes me think of Ivon Hitchens somewhat (an artist whose work I always found somewhat facile).

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Pleasantvile (1998): review- 9/10

A boy and his sister are magically transported from the 1990s into a TV soap from 1958 where they question the orthodoxies of the time.

An intelligent film that challenges sweetly, with excellent acting and beautiful art direction.

One From the Heart (1982): review- 1/10

Unhappy suburbanites make for a rudderless film with weak, uninteresting characters, whose meagre plot is suffocated by the set design.

Not even Tom Waits's music or Nastassja Kinksi in suspenders can save it.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

All the Pretty Horses (2000): review- 3/10

Two Texan youths ride to Mexico to seek work. On the way they are joined by a third, a fugitive.

They work on a horse ranch: one of the Texans makes the mistake of falling for the wealthy ranch-owner's daughter, played by tiresome Penelope pucker-lips Cruz.

If the film has central themes, they are "friendship" or "foreignness": however, it is too blandly directed to excite.

In Bruges (2008): review- 7/10

Two Irish contract killers are sent to Bruges, where they stay in a hotel, awaiting further instructions from their chief

The film begins as a comic double act- later more characters become involved: a love interest, a dwarf and other hoodlums.

It is often very funny: there are appropriately weird "Belgian" elements and is often beautifully shot.

However, the film suffers from an awkwardness of tempo, suffering from occasional languors.

Land and Freedom (1995): review- 3/10

A girl discovers letters and clippings among the posessions of her recently deceased grandfather. These tell the story of his involvement, as a young communist, with the fight against Fascist forces in the Spanish Civil War and his increasing sense of disillusion.

At the heart of the film is a lengthy political debate among villagers and combatants: this is little more than an exchange of slogans. Indeed, the whole film suffers from naivity and fails to examine the issues behind the Spanish Civil War or to show why a young working-class Liverpudlian with no Spanish or combat experience would take the extraordinary step of going to fight in the Spanish Civil War.

As so often in Loach films, the acting is often weak, and the film fails as a simple character study.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Mysterious Cat

It's been a poor few days creatively: I've been too tired, mainly from work, to make anything much. So I've been watching films, writing little reviews and congitating.

I don't feel unhappy about this: it's important to "recharge battteries". The difficulty is in knowing when they really need recharging, and when one is simply being lazy. This cat probably knows the difference: cats seem to know everything.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Igby Goes Down (2002): review- 6.5/10

Wealthy brat Igby flunks Millitary college, escaping to New York where he stays at the art studio of his father's mistress.

This is a well observed, Salinger-esque film, featuring strong performances. However, it is is too smug and mean-spirited to maintain viewer sympathies and ultimately fails both as comedy and tragedy.

The Whole Nine Yards (2000): review- 6/10

In suburban Montreal, a contract killer moves in next door to a dentist who is having maritial difficulties.

Slick farce with good acting and funny scenes: the sort of film that is good to watch on long-haul flights.

Smoke (1995): review- 2/10

Talk based picture centred round Keitel's cigar shop in New York and the characters who pass through there.

The film is in-necessarily slow, and becomes boring. This is for various reasons but:

1. The plot does not contain sufficient tension; indeed it just seems to be made up arbitrarily as it goes along. Ergo, it's boring. This is not the same as slow.

2. Harvey Keitel is the only one who can really hold the screen, and the characters are too blank to sustain sympathy.

3. Lighting and scenography aren't used with any imagination- thie film has the washed out look of a cheap tv soap and lacks atmosphere. Where is the use of music also? We want more than a few bars of Tom Waits.

4. The interlacing of lives is too contrived and it's hard to sense that the young black man is really in danger.

5. Lacks the sense of existential revelation which, I think , must play a part in all good art- certainly the existential art Noir-esque of Auster. That is to ask, where is the sense of magic, or the question, what lies beneath it all?

It's peculiar that these difficulties should have arisen from a Paul Auster penned film, given how very well he does atmosphere and narrative and existential questions in his books.

My Cousin Vinny (1992): review- 9/10


Two boys are wrongly acccused of a murder in Alabama: they hire inexperienced New York lawyer Pesci to clear their name. He drives down there with his girlfriend.

Very funny farce mainly about the culture clash between working class Italian-New Yorkers and Alabamans, and the relationship between Pesci and his girlfriend, both whom perform excellently.

Ace in the Hole (1951): review- 9/10

Down on his luck, again sacked from a major paper, an out-of-work reporter finds himself working for a small newspaper in sleepy Albuqurque.

This story is about his return to prominence, media manipulation and the ethics of news management.

Told with wit, it contains excellent performances and observations with beautiful camerawork, lending it the mood of a film noir.

Monday, June 21, 2010

10 Things I hate About You (1999): review- 9/10

Cleverly directed high school drama about two sisters, opposite in character: one outgoing, superficial and popular, the second a mean-spirited loner.

Their conservative father will only permit the first sister to date if the second sister also has a date: so rebel Heath Ledger is paid to ask the second sister out by the first sister's consort.

The twists and turns of plot are handled with wit and aplomb and the film is often very funny, and even insightful (which should perhaps come as no surprise given that it is based on "The Taming of the Shrew").

Sunday, June 20, 2010

In nature- woodcuts A and B

In nature A, woodcut, 30 x 39 cm

In nature B, woodcut, 30 x 39 cm

In nature A and B, woodcut, 30 x 78 cm together

In nature A and In Nature B were designed to join up, to make a long piece.

I tend to think, however, that A is more satisfactory on its own.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Truth About Love (2004): review- 0/10 and Why are British Films so Awful?

The Truth about Love (2004)

Both parties in a sexually disfunctional couple in Bristol seek to restore the passion in their lives: this is
a disgracefully poor film, containing mostly unfunny, smutty jokes and rotten acting.

Supposedly a farce.


Why are British Films so Awful?

I can't answer this from an industry perspective. There are reasons concerned with talent drain to the USA, the greater opportunites for ambitious people in TV, the cultural status of theatre in the UK and attitudes towards cinema as an industry. Also there will be some issues connected to funding. These arguments are outside the remit of this piece, which is simply to make the following observations about recent British films (the observations are interlinked):

1. The Curse of Richard Curtis: the too clever script, the banal character beneath, the insistence on everyone getting along in the end, the hateful jolliness, the untruthfulness, the smugness.

2. Provincial but not provincial enough. You'll get a setting (say Bristol in the film above) but the characters and situations don't issue from it at all- it'll just be a backdrop. It's a missed opportunity. Notting Hill does this too, to such an extent that it contains almost no Black characters, despite being, ostensibly, set in a very racially mixed area. This occurs in Curtis scrpited films- always. There are exceptions such as The Full Monty, An Education or Ken Loach's films.

3. I'm funny. This isn't just a problem in film. The British (more specifically the English) suffer from a delusion: they think they are funny when they aren't and they think that making a joke about things is necessarily the cleverest or most interesting way of dealing with it. This is connected to the English fear of seriousness. Comedy only really works when it sits close to something very grave: you have to grasp both gravity and humour at the same time or the films you make will simply be trivial.

4. Avoiding the really interesting problems facing the UK. There is an awful lot of political correctness knocking about the UK film world, a world where all blacks are good and working class people are solid etc. and everyone gets along very nicey nicey in the end. In the film above, for instance, the only black man who appears is very nice and innocent.* I think the whole UK film industry must have had to sit through classes on "social ethics and cinema". Or maybe UK directors are all so nice and middle-class that they are unable to make any original observation of character: they just see what they want to see (director Ken Loach has actually managed to turn the very film-making process itself into a branch of social work!). Or because they sometimes recieve government funding the scripts all have to contain satisfy certain quotas and please the members of inclusiveness obsessed committees.

All the people in the film above are really nice underneath, likewise in Four Weddings, where they live in a world of utter loveliness. The revoltingly twee Peter's Friends is particularly nasty in this respect.

But this isn't really how the British truly regard themselves. A glance at any UK newpaper or magazine will reveal the UK is riddled with antagonisms, snobberies, conflict and loathing. In fact, I'd say that when the British try to do "we're all in this together" or "we're just like a big family" they lose the characteristics that make them at all admirable or interesting (if not necessarily likable): the wit, insightfulness, originality and truthfulness that characterises a great British film artist like Hitchcock. Could ther be a more cloying film than Love Actually?

The British deserve better than this muck, which is no better than soft-left Nulab propaganda (note that the vomit-inducingly p.c. "Breaking and Entering" was directed by the same guy, Minghella, who directed 2005's Labour Party Political Broadcast. He was chair of the Board of Governors of the British Film Instute from 2003- 2008, so I suppose he can fairly be blamed for much of the above).

5. No grandeur. This is perhaps connected to the British landscape, to its visual culture and to British hostility to Idealism. But it does tend to lead to very puddling art. But then they used to do grandeur, with films by Lean, Powell and Pressburger, or Roeg, say. The film format is a big format: it's as if all UK films are designed to be seen redux, on TV screens.

6. Middle-brow. Maybe this is a marketting department led thing, but is there something wrong with films for intelligent people?. There are actually quite a lot of them out there.

7. Self-satisfaction. Where is the sense of wider engagement in the world? See "provinciality", above.

8. Soap opera format. This means characters are given little space to transform. A bunch of friends and their little lives. So what?

*Not that he shouldn't be either nice or innocent, but the way that non-whites on the screen are necessarily goodies is a form of racism in itself- and extremely patronising besides. I'm absolutely not against having films about minorities: what I'm opposing are films in which characters from minorities become goody-goody cardboard cut-outs.

Funny Girl (1968): review- 3/10

A langourous Cinderalla fantasy, albeit without the ugly sisters, and therefore twee. Contains some memorable songs.

Streisland plays a woman who is, in turns, exasperating, rude, irritating, uneducated, materialistic and absurd . She meets an effete, occasionally successful, gambler of uncertain European origins and they have a relationship, later a marriage.

It illustrates the fantasy of every egotistical female of average looks that, despite themselves, they might be feted.

The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990): review- 0/10

A dismal and self-important film, featuring wooden performances from the entire cast and ugly camerawork.

Hanks is always a unpleasant sight, with his weak mouth and piggy eyes: here he is thoroughly detestable. Cattrall's acting is astonishingly poor.

Working Girl (1988): review- 5.5/10

Victory and vengeance of the girl from the typing pool over her female superior: set in the world of New York Financial markets, and featuring big hair and bigger hairdos.

It would have been much more fun if, for instance, the heroine were not so relentlessly "good" and perhaps transformed into her boss more fully in the course of the film.

The film also lacks surprises, being based on obvious class conflicts between New Jersey and wealthy Manhattan, and is oddly paced.

This is Spinal Tap (1984): review- 8/10

Good-natured spoof documentary that whizzes along nicely, following a heavy metal band on tour in the USA, providing a lot of amusement and ridiculing the rock industry and its servants magnificently.

Lord of the Flies (1963): review- 7/10

Children stranded on an island following an air crash fall two "tribes"; the first led by Ralph is thoughtful and democratic; the second is lead by a tyrant, Jack, and is violent and irrational, given to bloodlust and wild celebration.

The film is good but not suburb, because the child actors who are too limited in their emotional range.

Moreover, the film is insufficiently visceral: we really do need to see more graphic images of destruction and violence for the film to work: adept cutting is simply not enough.

However, the film does succeed in maintaining a tension throughout and is admirably economical in method.

The Year of Living Dangerously (1983)- 9/10

An Australian journalist begins his first foreign assignment in revolutionary Indonesia, assisted by a mysterious Indonesian photographer dwarf, and conducting a romance with an English woman.

The film describes excellently the ex-pat community but the most interesting element is the relationship between the journalist and his Indonesian friend, who behaves with an unusual mixture of kindness and egoism.

The film is very good at touching on the "unknowability" of others: this theme of "unknowability" can be seen as extended to an entire country.

Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975): review- 10/10

Dreamlike film about the unknown forces of nature.

It is centred round the experiences of a group of school girls and their teachers in relation to a picnic in the Australian countryside.

It touches elegently on themes relating to the breakdown of social order, adolescent sexuality, repression and mystery and features beautiful cinematography and music.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Little Boat

Boat (dark), monotype, 9 x 5 cm

Part of a new series of little monotypes- made plein air. The plates used are very small and the pressure of a press isn't needed: I can print them outside using hand pressure. I'm using oil paint, not ink.

Because the effect is imprecise it's best to find motives that are very clearly defined.

There is always something mysterious and unpredictable about monotypes which I love: painting seems an excessively controllable art form, sometimes.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Sleuth (1972): review


Michael Caine and Laurence Olivier star in a leisurely, probably overlong, film with two parts, concerning humiliation, vengeance and social class in England.

The film has dated badly and it's hard to understand the class tensions that animate Caine's resentments. Moreover, the relations between the two aren't close enough for the Pinteresque role-exchanges occuring during the film.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Governador Celso Ramos: two new paintings


Woodland and Hills, Celso Ramos, oil on card, 12.7 x 12 cm

Sunshine- Governador Celso Ramos, oil on card, 16 x 10.2 cm

Two paintings made recently during the VI Festival de Artes Plasticas de Governador Celso Ramos, an event which provided the chance to meet many Brazillian artists, mainly from the South of the country.


Monday, June 7, 2010

My living room, Florianópolis

My living room, Florianopolis, oil on card, 12 x 10.7 cm

One of a run of little interiors that I shall be doing. I suppose this could conceivably be No. 8 from the list created on Sunday 23 May.


I'm off to a hotel in the country where they are running various art courses, including etching, which should be jolly. I hope the others there are pleasant. Anyway, I shall not be posting for a few days, therefore.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Alice in Wonderland (2009): review- 1/10

The Disneyfication of a British literary classic sees it ruined, with a tiresome feminist message and the total absence of the wry wit that makes the book so beguiling.

Everything becomes exaggerated, nothing has grace, and the characters become caricatures. The clever animation which is impressive at the start of the film later turns tiresome, as if it is an end in itself.

Director Tim Burton should be taken and shot for this.

Petrol Station, Itacorubi

Petrol Station, Oil on card, 10 x 15.5 cm

A quick picture showing something of the architectural confusion in my neighbourhood.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Katyn (2007): review- 5/10

A film about Soviet mass murder of Polish officers during the Second World War and subsequent decietfulness regarding responsibility for this crime.

In style it is episodic, with various confusing time leaps: this makes it difficult (probably impossible- my Brazillian wife was totally lost) to follow for those unfamiliar with the history of the Katyn massacre and Polish history and its various wartime borders.

It is unclear what the main objective of the director was: to evoke sympathy for those involved in events, or to examine historical memory, or to show how history is manipulated?

I don't think the film can be said to be a success in any of these terms: the characters are not memorable, (it's hard to identify with anyone- we hear about their professions but there is no construction of character, albeit of the most cardboard sort); the historical events are very unclearly narrated and the issue of the manipulations of historical memory is examined in insufficient detail (where, for instance are the voices of the ex-patriot communities, who maintained truthful accounts?). So the film feels muddled: it has the qualities of a disturbed dream.

The film also suffers from gloominess. If this criticism seems absurd, given that that it concerns mass murder, then that is to forget that it is first of all a film: and must succeed in maintaining the viewers interest as a temporal art form. Gloom militates against this because gloom is fatalism, and fatalism leads to the belief that the destinies of the main characters are pre-determined, and this in turn prevents one from caring much about the dilemmas they face as their outcome is already known.

A temporal medium such as film must succeed on a "I want to know what happens next" level, and this film doesn't because the narrative is too confusingly related and the characters too lightly sketched and because their fates can be pre-supposed.

Put another way, the characters aren't presented with real choices. Compare this film to "Bridge over the River Kwai': where moral dilemma acts in every scene to animate the film. Likewise, it's used to enliven "Schindler's List". This film does not offer moral drama because there is no lever acting upon the consciences of the oppressers -alternately Nazi, Soviet or Polish communist or a-moral Polish (while "honour" is the lever acting on both the British leader and the Japanese in Bridge on the river Kwai)- so any dealings with the baddies have a predictable outcome.

One response to my criticisms is to say- "oh but the events don't allow another approach". But surely it is the job of the director to trace an effective narrative: a narrative that is both truthful and successful as drama.

No film can do everything: perhaps this film attempts too much. I can't help thinking if a much more conventional format- either a linear documentary, or the dramatisation of the life of a heroic individual, Hollywood style (viz. Schindler's List) would have been a more successful means for describing the events and effects of Katyn.

It might be argued that the "disturbed dream" effect is indeed what the film is really about, and that I am asking the film to suit an audience (international, young, uneducated) that the film is not intended for. To that I would say that even I, approaching middle age, who has a good-ish grasp of events (being half Polish) found the film hard to follow.

If the film is intended as a sort of catharisis then it isnt emotionally affecting, because the means of identification offered viewers are through national symbols, not though characterisation or artistic effects (most notably apart from Penderecki's score, which is magnificent). And the film contains few memorable or beautiful images. This is a pity and is surprising because Wayda's films are usually visually very striking.