Tuesday, January 30, 2007


Title:The Fountain
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz, Ellen Burstyn, Mark Margolis, Stephen McHattie, Fernando Hernandez, Cliff Curtis, Sean Patrick Thomas, Donna Murphy, Ethan Suplee
Director: Darren Aronofsky

Where do we start? At the beginning? With creation myths? In the beginning there was the first father, he sacrificed himself to create the world, from his flesh grew the tree, from the tree grew the world. In the beginning there was Adam and Eve, and there were two trees in the Garden of Eden, when they ate of knowledge they were cast out, and the tree of life was hidden from them. In the beginning, man and woman, love and death, life and life eternal. Death is a disease, so it must have a cure?

Tom is a doctor, a specialist doing research in brain tumours. Using a fragment of a tree found in South America he has had fantastic results. But will it be too late for his wife Izzi? A writer, dying of a brain tumour. Despite his insistence that he will save her, she has accepted the end, hands him the manuscript of her last work - The Fountain - finished but for the last chapter, which she bids him complete for her.

The Fountain is the story of the conquistador Tomas and the queen of Spain Isabel. She sends him to the South American Mayan kingdom, convinced that the jungles hide the biblical tree of life, and that this will help her fight back the forces of the Inquisition. But if the tree provides eternal life, where does the story end? A man in a bubble, floating through space, floating towards a dying star, just him and the tree of life?

Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain came close to being one of those films that never happened after so much work. Ironically I saw The Fountain the same day as I saw Babel, The Fountain originally to have been made with Babel's leads Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett. But when Pitt and Aronofsky fell out, it looked like the end of the film. A defiant Aronofsky went back to the drawing board, reworking the piece, collaborating with artist Kent Williams on the graphic novel which appeared last year. Then returning with the cast of Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz and a budget cut in half.

Clint Mansell contributed to the soundtrack to Pi, Aronofsky's first feature, taking on a more central role with his follow up Requiem For A Dream. Mansell, formerly from the band Pop Will Eat Itself, has done a number of soundtracks, becoming a familiar name from film credits. But it is his work with Aronofsky that will be remembered. The soundtrack Mansell did with The Kronos Quartet for Requiem has become anthemic, used for the promotion of Lord Of The Rings, TV ads and currently in the trailer for Danny Boyle's Sunshine, which was shown before The Fountain. Once again Mansell works with The Kronos Quartet, this time adding in the contribution of Mogwai, to present another stunning soundtrack, which once again merges perfectly with Aronofsky's narrative.

The Fountain is over the top, spanning thousands of years from the Mayan past to a future in space. But for all that it’s a human story, rooted in the present, one man's desperate attempts to save the woman he loves from death. The result is carefully crafted, woven together and just wonderful.

Monday, January 22, 2007


Title:Pan's Labyrinth [El Laberinto del Fauno]
Cast: Ariadna Gil, Ivana Baquero, Sergi López, Maribel Verdú
Director: Guillermo del Toro

The Spanish Civil War maybe over, but the fighting continues - resistance against the fascist, hiding in the mountains. Ofelia's father died during the war, and her mother remarried a ruthless commander. Which is why she finds herself moving out to the country with her heavily pregnant mother, with only her books full of fairy tales to keep her company. All around her are the signs of battle, the vicious commander who she refuses to accept as replacement to her father, and the kindly house keeper, who is clearly collaborating with the resistance.

But Ofelia wants an escape. So when she encounters a large bug, which transforms into a fairy, she is only too happy to follow it into the old stone labyrinth that lies by the commanders appropriated house. There is she encounters a faun, who eagerly tells her that she is in fact the daughter of the fairy king. The fawning faun suggests that if the young princess in human form, were to pass three tests then she could easily be returned to her true home. Ofelia is delighted, and eager to pass her tests, though temptations are difficult to resist and she has been warned that fauns can't always be trusted. She proceeds regardless, though the faun seems increasingly manipulative in his machinations.

In the background, her mother struggles with a difficult pregnancy, with the captain only caring about having a baby boy for his heir. The captain tortures and kills and the fighting escalates around them. So it is not surprising that Ofelia might be keen to retreat to a more peaceful world, even if perhaps the whole thing is her imagination.

Mexican director Guillermo del Toro has attained a certain mainstream credibility through his work on films like Blade II and Hellboy, but once again it is with Spanish language films that he excels. Returning to the territory he covered in his classic Devil's Backbone, that of a child against the background of the Spanish Civil War with an element of the "other" filtering through. Here he takes things to a considerably more extreme level, with both the level of the war violence and the fantasy special effects. Visually the film is wonderful, with the young actress Ivana Baquero as Ofelia coming out as a star. From the rest of the cast Sergi López (Dirty Pretty Things) as the captain and Maribel Verdú (Y Tu Mama Tambien) as the local house keeper are the most familiar faces.

I've already seen Pan's Labyrinth twice in the cinema; it’s certainly one of the best films on offer at the moment, and well worth catching on the big screen.

Sunday, January 21, 2007


Artists: Faulty Optic
Venue: ICA, 14 Jan 2007 - 18 Jan 2007

Soiled is a puppet show for grown ups, that played as part of the London International Mime Festival. Descriptions of a sparrow with Tourette's syndrome, a soil spitting psychic and a boxing ballerina caught my attention. Unfortunately, when we were in at the Alien Nation exhibition, I was told that the whole run had sold out, the only part of the festival that had. However, perseverance, Tuesday 16th was the night that I wanted to see, so I went down a couple hours early to ask about returns, where upon I was issued a ticket adding me to the waiting list, with 13 people already ahead of me.

Time killed - book read, tea drank - I returned, to find that most of the people with tickets ahead of me had obviously decided not to bother turning up after all. So I was able to secure a ticket to the show pretty easily it seemed. The show used a built up room and a handful of puppets primarily. A grief stricken blue man lives with his tricky pet sparrow, and is visited by the soil spitting psychic who keeps trying to cheer him up. But it isn't until our hero has his encounter with a bright light, with a boxing ballerina, that the plot becomes clear. This man was in love once, with a mermaid, they were happy together, until she died. He grieved of course, but watching the short film as flashback, it becomes clear, she was murdered!

Two black clad figures manipulate their puppets through elaborate sequences, silent, slap-stick comedy. Switching at points to the flash back provided by a projected animation on a roll down screen. To a table top city scape, where tiny figures go through the motions of hell, and are projected on to the screen once more by a hand held camera - bones ground up, hellish visions. The hole thing taking on increasingly sinister undertones. Funny and nasty, and just too clever, for all that we only really know as much about what is really happening from reading the program.


Title:Tate Modern

Tuesday morning, I went to the Tate Modern. My aim to have a go on Carsten Holler's slides, the latest installation in the former power station's Turbine Hall. The biggest, and most in demand slide is the level 5, which towers all the way up 5 floors. As that was unavailable at the time of my arrival, I made do with level 3. When I got to level 3 it didn't seem to busy, so i decided it made some sense to see art, then slide down. So i wandered through mirrored halls, material art, a room full of the work of Rothko. However, by the time I returned to the slide I found that there was a line of eager school children, the whole place was full of children. So I took my turn in the line, then on the slide, whooshing down three flights, slow at first, building speed, back down to ground level. Since it was so busy, I had a quick look in the shop, and decided that was enough "art" for one day, and went shopping instead of exploring further.


Title:Turner Prize 2006
Artists: Tomma Abts, Phil Collins, Mark Titchner and Rebecca Warren
Venue: Tate Britain - 3 October 2006 – 14 January 2007

While in London last weekend I managed to get to the last day of the Turner Prize exhibit at the Tate Britain. Works by the four finalists were on display, each with a room full of work. Tomma Abts was the winner with her serious of abstract paintings, everyone of which is a rigid 48cm x 38cm canvas, which she layers paint on, until something emerges. Her work is reasonably striking, though I by far prefer the work of Mark Titchner - the artist encountered first as you came into the exhbit. Combining installation pieces, computer generated imagary, and random inspirational/psychotic slogans, Titchner's work just had a certain something that worked really well as far as i was concerned. From Titchner through to Warren, who I have seen some interesting work by, just not as part of this exhibit. Mishapen lumps of material sit, clumps of bronzes and whites, on pedestals, surrounded by glass cases with little neon elements and found objects. The impression is of half finished projects, of pieces that have sat too long and been canablised for other pieces. Which is perhaps the intent, but did little for me. The final room was the work of Phil Collins, who I last saw in the Tate Britain last year - another video piece. The Return of The Real is a study or reality television, in Turkey, interviewing people who have appeared in all kinds of "real" TV to see how it has affected their life. At one end of a dark room we see the interviewee, at the other the interviewer, giving a unique view on the process.


Title:City Glow, Mountain Whisper
Artists: Chiho Aoshima
Venue: Gloucester Road Underground Station - 25 July 2006 – 25 January 2007

Along the archway's of London's Gloucester Underground station one can go on a journey with Japanese artist Chiho Aoshima. Travelling from the glow of a strange city at night, and ending up in the day light of mountains, wild life a whispering around you. The current contribution in a series of pieces of platform art that the station has put in place. I was a little disappointed that you couldn't get onto the platform that the work was on, though I guess this was to protect it against vandalism - forcing the viewer to stand on the other side of the tracks and look across into this other world. Chiho's colours and shapes are striking, the evolution of the piece along the way showing the depth of her work.

For full photo set see Flickr.


Artists: United Visual Artists (UVA) and Robert Del Naja (aka 3D) of Massive Attack and Neil Davidge (one point six)
Venue: John Madejski Garden , V&A, 24 November 2006 - 28 January 2007

Located in the John Madejski Garden at the V&A, Volume is presented by the V&A and Playstation, a series of pillars of light with speakers sitting on top. Constructed by UVA, Robert Del Naja and Neil Davidge, Volume reacts visually and musically to people passing it, colours rippling up and down the posts in sequence, each playing a different sound that blends into the whole. Wandering around, I found myself trying to track visual and audio patterns, watching segments of the grid fade out as they were left alone long enough, while others formed bands of green, blue, yellow, orange, pink, and on. Fascinated I lingered round the edges, strolled through the centre, and scoffed as one guy's girlfriend asked him why he was wasting time taking pictures of this since it was boring.


Artists: SheOne
Venue: Union Works, New Globe Walk, 6th January – 13th January 2007

From the ICA squirmelia, shlunk and I went to the last night of Exit at the Union Works. A factory due to be demolished, turned into a temporary art installation by Illuminate Productions and the Graffiti artist SheOne aka James Choules. Described as a dramatic minimalism, Choules work was appropriately underwhelming and repetitive, bold sweeping lines mixed with pithy little type statements. Given the scale of the venue it seemed that little was really made of the space, though perhaps that was the intent and part of the minimalist. Wandering around the levels of the old factory, finding the tags and swathes was actually more fun than the final works. Listening to the sound of running water, the flow getting into the building somewhere. Apparently the building contained the last remaining bear-baiting arena, which has been there since 1680 - though I don't recall seeing anything that would cover that description.

For full photo set see Flickr.


Title:Alien Nation
Artists: Laylah ALi, Hamad Butt, Edgar Cleijne, Ellen Gallagher, David Huffman, Hew Locke, Henna Nadeem, Kdri Newkirk, Yinka Shoibare, Eric Wesley, Mario Ybarra Jr., Marepe
Venue: ICA 17th November 2006-14th January 2007

While in London, squirmelia, shlunk and I went to the ICA for the second last night of the Alien Nation exhibit. Corridors and lower gallery all painted a bright orange, the corridor walls full of classic pulp science fiction posters. In the lower gallery we had Shonibare's Dysfunctional Family, batik cloth scultpures of a blue and yellow alien family which was particularly striking. Newkirk offerred a beaded curtain, which looked at from the right distance/position, formed a mosaic image - suburban houses in a row, with blinding orange light blasting down from the sky. Marepe's Christmas ornaments took a fairly central position, and were depicted on Christmas cards in the shop - though I have to say I wasn't especially impressed by those. Upstairs there were a couple of film clips, and a small gallery space filled with the stunning and disturbing work of Hew Locke - Golden Horde - a space fleet constructed from children's toys, glittering structures, with distorted and mutilated dolls as pilots and warriors, incredibly detailed pieces all ready for some imaginary war.

Buckhurst Hill


Last saturday when I was in London, I caught up with my friend squirmelia, and we went on one of tubewalker's tube walks. A series of explorations of London, based on the notional idea of going from one underground station to another, via whatever route comes up. In this instance we were walking from Buckhurst Hill, in Zone 5, to Loughton, in Zone 6. About 20 of us wandering the streets, up through some wooded paths, where some of us managed to get split from the main group, then rejoin them again. Along the way we stopped in at a pub for a swift 'alf, were monitored by the people of Little Dragon who were unsure what to make of our passage, and took a detour through Loughton library to buy a couple of cheap books. Was a good day, the weather stayed dry, despite dark clouds at times, and everyone seemed to have fun.

For full photo set see Flickr.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007


Cast: Jena Malone, Peter Lorentzon, Mariha Åberg
Director: Lukas Moodysson

Container is the most recent film by Swedish director Lukas Moodysson, who has established himself as someone to watch thanks to films like Fucking Amal (aka Show Me Love) and Lilya-4-Ever. However having gained himself that reputation, he has set about creating the reputation of being difficult instead. His last film A Hole In My Heart, which revolved around a group making home made porn films in their flat in Sweden was pretty challenging, and there were certainly people that walked out of the showing that I attended.

So, what has he done with Container? Gone back to safe and acclaimed? Or continued to be challenging? By the end of this showing I was only audience member left. I guess that means that he has gone for challenging. A black and white piece lacking in plot or dialogue, with a monologue narrative that is intended to feel like a stream of consciousness. From the voice we can ascertain that the man in the wig and dress believes that he is a woman in a man's body, convinced that she is a celebrity, and obsessed with fame and celebrity. The material of the man is interspersed with a woman, the way the film flows there is the suggestion that this is the woman that is inside the man? Though by turns you see her helping him as though she is his carer, but then just in case that makes sense you see him help her. All the while the film switches from the two "characters" to random clips, the voice over is in English, provided by Jena Malone, who confesses over the course of the film that she is Jena Malone an American actress and that she has never been to Sweden before.

Container is a kind of art poem on film. Kind of. With themes of sexuality, celebrity and identity being fairly obvious. As a piece its not too long, and isn't really as in your face as A Hole In My Heart. Though certainly its not a piece of narrative cinema and will never gain the acclaim that his early films attained.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours? Site Meter