new resolutions

So both the chemistry and physics Nobel prizes this year went to photonics technologies, and to applied ones at that. I wrote something about the super-resolution microscopy win, since it’s fun when clever people run up against the laws of physics and outflank them down the touchline.

some radical notions


For Sight & Sound I wrote about the Encounters short film and animation festival, which this year clocked up its twentieth anniversary. A lot of the event was in a retrospective mood; and quite a bit of the rest was occupied by something other than a film programme. If there’s a price to be paid as festivals transition gracefully over towards trade conferences under the magnetic pull of their own industry programmes, it’ll be the general audience that pays it. But the strand devoted to radical film-making found a rich vein to tap; up with this sort of thing.

A Stag at Sharkey’s by George Wesley Bellows, 1909.
Kirby-esque before Kirby.

A Stag at Sharkey’s by George Wesley Bellows, 1909.

Kirby-esque before Kirby.

one in the eye

Graphene; remarkable stuff, with remarkable amounts of money now being spent on it. Use graphene as a transistor material instead of something like silicon and you can get an electrical component able to exploit the body’s own electrochemistry in its operation. I spoke to a group in Germany which thinks it can turn that particular behaviour to good use in retinal implants, where better sensitivity and less general complexity would be a fine idea. Plus there should be other in-body uses too; the EU’s Graphene Flagship program has started to consider biomedical applications, and you can buy a lot of progress for one billion Euros.

eat the rich

I took a look at The Riot Club for Critic’s Notebook, a film which has the usual problem for any angry satire about the English upper classes: that its subjects operate in a foggy twilight zone of satire already, and the whole topic is so immune to anger that the rage just bounces off it like a lemon pip. With both those avenues closed off, all that’s left is flat mockery.

And then there’s Maps to the Stars, which operates in the kind of register that Anglo-Saxon satires can only reach with the aid of chemical modification. Not that Maps is exactly a satire in the first place. Bruce Wagner’s sort-of source novel left me scraping the grime off my windowpanes, although David Cronenberg opts for a less adversarial harangue with the audience and so lets it more or less off the hook. No Cronenberg film is close to being negligible though.

Neither is Dracula, at least when he’s an aristocrat praying on the proles; but in Dracula Untold he’s just another superhero. Marvel indeed at a culture so scared of its own shadow that it furiously defangs its legitimate monsters, taking the metaphors of rape and class and blood and decay, and giving it great power and responsibility by Stan Lee and hair by L’Oreal. Come back Gerard Butler, all is forgiven.

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.