Manara, Fellini.
Seen in The Comics Journal 182, 1995.

Manara, Fellini.

Seen in The Comics Journal 182, 1995.


The damage done to the brain by drugs is tricky to measure, but I spoke to a team in New York which can map the wrecked blood vessels left behind in the cortex of mice by cocaine - sometimes it constricts the vessels so much that blood flow could hardly be detected at all. The same method might be good for assessing anti-cancer treatments too.

And: finding practical uses for lenses based on the design of insect eyes has been a live topic for a while, but what happens if you go the opposite way and make a fly’s eye emit light instead? A group in Pennsylvania gave it a try.


I took a look at Before I Go to Sleep for Critic’s Notebook, a film full of slightly Off moments (one supposedly British character says he’s equipped a camera with “the biggest memory chip I could find,” a sure sign that he’s emerged from a pod) but doesn’t get around to building an Off world to account for them. It also features Nicole Kidman getting punched in the head and kicked in the stomach more fiercely than strictly required for the point at hand, but that’s just more generally Off.

the race was fixed

For Little White Lies, I wrote about Sam Fuller’s not-exactly-lost but slightly misplaced novel Brainquake, out now after a couple of decades in the wilderness.

Sam Fuller’s personality is so firmly infused into his output that the temptation is to detect it in every turn of phrase. It duly spills across the landscape of Brainquake in all its guises, including the one of an old soldier in late-life, pragmatic about the effects of past wars on his country and everyone else’s. Hardboiled crime stories carry their own poignancy, something Fuller appreciated as well as anyone ever has.

uncool world

imageWhen film reviews start stressing the word “real” it’s time to dig out the tin helmet, since there’s nothing more fake in narrative fiction films than that battered concept. The latest cannonade accompanies Two Days, One Night, as it does every film by the Dardennes brothers, and I’m still not convinced. Odd theories have been brewed to argue that the presence of an outright movie star like Marion Cotillard somehow emphasises the precious veracity of the thing, when in fact her appearance at the sharp end of the brothers’ neorealist style is a classic case of immovable cinematic object dominating very stoppable force. I reviewed the film for Critic’s Notebook, but it didn’t shift the Dardennes’ position in my league of reality biters; some of us are on record as finding Andrea Arnold’s inner city fables overly contrived in their neorealism, but compared to the Dardennes brothers she’s as trippy as Peter Greenaway.

But then it’s been an unreal month. The Congress lost its way when it turned out that Unreal Robin Wright was actually escaping from a standard dystopian low-budget mini-mob of zonked-out hobos wearing ratty wool hats in the drizzle; reaching for profundity, it transpired that the film’s shoelaces were tied together. The dark suicidal mayhem of Cool World might have helped for once, but The Congress is really as square as Ralph Bakshi’s bank manager. Any hint of Guy Peellaert’s sensibilities making their way onto the screen is ok by me though.

Lucy is unreal from start to finish and Does Not Care. How long since a film felt no obligation to defer to a standard knowledge of science among a general audience of internet-consumers? In the tv ghetto tornados pick up sharks on a regular basis, but Lucy maintains an even Besson-ian keel while punting movie science so far it becomes a burnished version of the kind of thing Charles Band used to go in for, for which much thanks. Any side left unsplit would have to give way at the sight of Morgan Freeman, emeritus professor of codswallop at the Sorbonne, uttering dialogue in which no two consecutive sentences relate to each other.

And then there’s Basin City. More reviewing shorthand at work in the observations that Sin City: A Dame To Kill For is the same as Sin City. Apart from the absence of a Tarantino strain, which turns out to do odd things to the pacing, even a cursory glance reveals a tighter focus on male fragility and a much doomier end-of-the-century-any-century air; so more or less in line with the sources. That’s before considering the change in skin quotient and its deployment, which on its own would be a big flashing arrow. Frank Miller remains the best argument against conformity, complicity and self-conscious prudery in movies made from comics, simply by proving that the two forms will forever fly apart like magnets. A Dame To Kill For would be one textbook among many; 200 pages of imagery beyond the grasp of any performance-based art form yet devised.

bells and whistles

I interviewed Joseph Schmitt of St Jude Medical about the reasons biophotonics start-ups can now get off the ground more easily than ever; and why doing so without a decent business plan is still likely to be the kiss of death.

Also: A pair of novel technologies coming out of ICFO in Barcelona. One puts nano-scale and micro-scale structures onto glass to give both anti-glare and anti-reflection behaviour, a trick that’s piqued the interest of Corning. The other detects blood flow by decoding the speckle pattern you get when laser light hits the skin; operationally straightforward, but mathematically fiendish.

Plus: An optical technique analogous to a CT scan can detect the signs of very early-stage cancers in individual cells by spotting the anomalous DNA content; but ask different people how the field of pathology is going to adopt and adapt to these kinds of 3D techniques and you’ll get different answers.

le desordre c’est moi


Welcome to New York played at the Edinburgh Film Festival, where the accumulated static made the festival take temporary leave of its senses and eventually generated a mighty throng of about two dozen paying customers. Doubtful that any of us have forgotten it since, though. Anyone hyped for a damning indictment of other people is going to be disappointed; as seen above, Gérard Depardieu makes a point of addressing where capitalism’s problems really start.

I grappled with the film for Critic’s Notebook. It’s no Go Go Tales; but then what is?

sensor snapshot

Returning to an old topic, I wrote a piece about recent progress in smartphone camera technology for the fourth issue of the digital magazine Clarity. Sensor technology has marched on yet again since the last time I waded into the subject, leaving the usual trail of winners and losers in its wake. Apart from Facebook, which still wins under all scenarios.

The inimitable Mr Ditko, again. From the collected witzend, 7.6 pounds of fissile material.

The inimitable Mr Ditko, again. From the collected witzend, 7.6 pounds of fissile material.