Apr 2007

Some reviews

Hallo folks. Well, I’m finally back from my extended Easter break. A long-weekend got transformed into a ten day holiday thanks to West Cork’s unusually-Mediterranean weather. Technically I was cycling (on my new and excellent bike). But I feel a bit of a cheat making that claim as the time mostly consisted of sitting on cliff-tops or beaches and eating the occasional biscuit. In amidst all the lazing about in the sun though, I helped someone clean a patio (don’t ask). Right at the end, after all the heavy lifting, bending and scrubbing was done, I decided to give the stones one last leisurely sweep. It was just then that some hitherto uncomplaining muscle in my lower back decided to go “ping” (or whatever sound muscles make when they tear).

At the time it was fairly painful, but bearable. The next day though was spent sitting in a car on my way back to Dublin. A journey that gave my back plenty of time to seize up good and proper. It’s starting to sort itself out now, and movement without unreasonable agony is possible again. But lying motionless for over a week has given me plenty of time to reflect on the fact that I can spend a week cycling and clambering over rocks and climbing the occasional tree and it be nothing but physically pleasurable… but a few hours of repetitive labour will bugger up my back.

This should surprise nobody except the creationists.

Of course, lazing around on the couch blitzed on painkillers and muscle-relaxants is hardly the worst fate that can befall a person (though it annoys me that I was forced to resort to such medication… the dearth of quality sensimilia in this country is shameful). Especially a person with an extensive DVD collection. So, some quickie reviews…

Stalker. It’s possible that this late-70s Russian art-SF film would be utterly incomprehensible even without taking a bunch of strong painkillers. Right now though, I can’t say for sure. Hypnotic, dreamlike and very odd. I recommend it.

Six Feet Under (Season 1). Television is almost never this good. The writing is wonderful, the acting is flawless and the production values make most Hollywood films seem pale and one-dimensional. I must admit to being vaguely annoyed by the very final scene of the season, but aside from that I can’t think of a single thing wrong with this programme. An unflinching and visionary look at human relationships and emotion. A work of genius.

Stranger Than Fiction. I have very little time for Will Ferrell (his part in Zoolander was bearable only because the rest of the film was so funny) but given the hype surrounding this film (I can’t help but be interested when the name Charlie Kaufman is mentioned, even if only by comparison) I figured it was worth a shot. And it turns out that — just like Jim Carrey — Will Ferrell is capable of doing a half-decent job when cast against type… in this case as a dull, repressed, buttoned-down office worker. Definitely worth a look.

Casino Royale. A bearable action flick. The chase scene at the beginning is by far the best part. When it shows up on TV it’s worth tuning in to the first ten minutes or so. Sadly it’s all downhill after that. Even the much-discussed torture scene is sanitised, so that it forces you to wince rather than turn away from the screen (as in Reservoir Dogs or Syriana). If someone’s getting tortured on-screen and you’re only wincing, then the director hasn’t done their job very well.

The Ice Harvest. John Cusack is a very watchable actor. And he’s been in some excellent films. Unfortunately his ratio of good films to utter dross isn’t as good as it once was, and he’s getting close to being an indication that I don’t want to see a film rather than a reason to see it. This is a particularly silly thriller that telegraphs every single plot twist and has a dire cop-out ending. Avoid.

I also rewatched Takeshi Kitano’s Dolls (possibly my favourite film ever) which gets more beautiful and moving with every viewing. Kitano had a degree of international success with Zatoichi which — it seems — irritated him somewhat. In response he made what is apparently one of the weirdest and most impenetrable films of recent years… Takeshis’. I can’t wait to see it!


Lately my reading has become rather more focussed than is traditional for me. Regimented even. On my shelf since Christmas sits Pynchon’s massive and enticing Against The Day. It is, as yet, unopened. Well, that’s not strictly true… I couldn’t resist reading the first couple of pages… it starts well, introduced by a Thelonious Monk quote — “It’s always night, or we wouldn’t need light” — and opening aboard the hydrogen airship, Inconvenience. But I decided back at Christmas that I’d wait until summer to read it. For two reasons. One of them being that the best place and time to read great fiction is under some trees on a warm sunny day.

A bit less fluffy, the other reason is simply that although I’m looking forward to full-time study, it’s meant I’ve had to spend a wee while “revising”. See, before I made an abrupt about-turn and got sucked into engineering, my original degree — quite a while ago — was in philosophy. It included courses on ‘The Philosophy of Psychoanalysis’, ‘Theories of Rationality’ and the heavily-psychoanalytical ‘Philosophy and Gender’. Nonetheless, it was still primarily a philosophy course and in no way did it provide a formal grounding in psychoanalysis. And because psychoanalysis is a complex subject (in the sense that there are a multitude of competing theories) it can take a while to acquire a fairly thorough overview. There’s no single book I’ve found that does even a quarter-decent job, so it’s a case of reading several different collections, often with a phrase like “The Essential” in the title (as, for instance, in Princeton’s excellent The Essential Jung) and keeping those most invaluable tools by your side… The Penguin Dictionary of Psychology and The Penguin Critical Dictionary of Psychoanalysis. The bevelled edges are pretty cool too.

I’m also starting to get the impression that Lacan is just Sartre with Venn Diagrams. But I imagine you get into trouble with the psychoanalytic community for saying things like that.

Anyways, I’m recovered enough to sit at the PC for more than five minutes without fretting that my back is going to seize up again. There was a worrying few days when I convinced myself that I’d slipped a disc, which I’m told can sometimes require surgery. Thankfully that wasn’t the case and I managed to cycle to the village and back today without any ill effect. So once I’ve caught up on my email, I’ll hopefully be blogging on a semi-regular basis again.