Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Here's a little (713 words) SF short story I wrote last night.

Knock... Knock...

I got nothing against aliens. Some of my best friends have got too many eyes and leave slime trails around the office. The one thing about aliens is that most of the time they tell you the truth. Something to do with those universal translator things getting confused. If the circuits can't match up the words with the body language and the brain wave patterns they just fritz up. It means we humans can't lie to them either. This is a good thing. Most humans have trouble reading other humans' body language, trying to pick up subtle non-verbal clues from a hairy jelly on legs just never going to happen. Consensus is that The Universal Peace is glued together by the shortcomings of the translators. Basically you know where you stand with an alien - which is upwind if you can. Most of them smell dreadful.

So, one day after work, I'm sitting in Dino's bar, next to the air conditioner, when Flygol slithers in. Flygol's a Gumph - one of those blue spongy lizard things with all the tentacles. He sees me drinking whatever it was I was drinking (Dino claimed it was whisky) and he gets himself a whatever it is he is drinking (which looks like moose snot with lumps) and comes over and joins me.

His translator box squawked. "Greetings, fellow wage-slave worker-unit," he said.

"Salutations fellow downtrodden toiler," I replied. "And how are things in the Department of Lengths?"

"Superb as always. No deaths for at least three days - a new safety record!"

"Now that is good news - another drink to celebrate?"

The Gumph swished his moose snot and tossed it back. As usual I managed to avert my eyes. I once had the misfortune to see a Flygol's mouthparts extrude themselves into a glass and empty the contents. It was not an experience I ever wish to repeat.

"Most assuredly!" he said. "More drinks!" He banged his glass down. "Dino! Another one of these," he pointed at my glass "and another one of those - whatever they are."

Several whiskies and snots later we were hammered. We had exhausted the rituals of company small talk, segued neatly into company gossip, and were past that and deep in the realms of upper management character assassination when Flygol suddenly said, "That reminds me: Why are all Xynumbians dyslexic?"

"No idea," I said, "Why are all Xynumbians dyslexic?"

"They can't help it. It's genetic. It's in their DAN!"

It took me a moment to notice that he was obviously awaiting a response. And a longer moment to realise that he had told me a joke and that it was slightly funny. I laughed. It seemed to satisfy him.

No alien had ever told me a joke before.

I told him one back.

I said, "How can you tell a Banavian Gussic from a Fromb?"

Flygol's translator was silent for a moment then made a query noise.

I hit him with the punchline. "Because the Gussic freems a bentel!"

Flygol fell off his stool. His palps flapped. He floundered around gasped for air. He vented acetylene. He was in paroxysms of what I hoped was laughter. (If he was dying, the Department of Length's safety record was screwed again.) After a few minutes of flapping around on the floor like a fish having a fit, he regained his composure and crawled back up the stool, wiping away fluids leaking from a couple of orifices as he came.

"Because the freems a bentel..." he repeated, "very good, very good. I'll have to remember that one." He toyed with his glass a moment then leaned towards me. I was polite; I held my breath and tried not not pull away too far.

"New model translator," he said, tapping it, "Prototype. Built-in cognitive dissonance filters. Very hush hush. Is a secret."

I drunkenly patted his nearest tentacle. "Don't, pal, worry," I hiccuped "I won't tell."

"Good chap," he said. "Good chap, I've always liked you. You know, for a human, you're all right. Yes, you are all right... You're my pal, you are. "

His eye-stalks levelled with my face and we matched gazes.

"But if you ever lay a hand on my sister...."

We both fell off our stools this time.


Friday, October 01, 2010

I found it in Daddy's pocket - so it's MINE!

Oh god! another month gone and all I have done that's worth mentioning to the world is watch a load of crappy movies... Well.... er... I defrosted the freezer today - that's about as exciting as it gets around here at the moment. Actually it was quite exciting. Eben has a mania for shutting doors at the moment and that includes freezer doors, even when Daddy has his head in the way.

Every crappy movie I have watched in September with copious opinionated bletherings and a couple of pictures of under-dressed women.
  1. Next (2007) - I think I've found my Turd of the Month already and it's only the 2nd. I really have to stop watching Nic Cage movies. It was his turn to fuck up a perfectly good Philip K Dick story (I'm sure there's a list list in some Hollywood producer's office and Dick's stories are dished out to people to go screw up; "Nic, How you doing? Listen, I got a 30 page short story here about a post-nuclear war world in which genetic mutations are ruthlessly suppressed. The first Homo Superior is discovered: a lion-maned, golden-furred, totally silent creature that appears to have the ability to see into the future - it'll make a great modern day action thriller with French terrorists planting a nuclear bomb in LA. Sound good? Let's talk.") The only things that have survived the trip from page to screen are the characters name and the foresight gimmick. The rest is pure Hollywood bullshit. At least it was short. 96 minutes.
    Barbarella ( 1968 ) - a masterpiece of High Trash. - well if you can High Art, why can't you have High Trash? Total nonsense from start to finish with a paper thin plot as ultra-hotty space bimbo Barbarella:

    is assigned to track down missing scientist Durand Durand (sic - Simon le Bon got it wrong) but you don't watch Barbarella for the story, you watch Barbarella for the opening sequence where Jane Fonda gets naked in free fall, you watch it for the scene where Durand Durand (still sic) has Barbarella strapped into his Excessive Machine, planning to kill her with pleasure - but the machine gives up first and bursts into flames, much to Durand's distress. "Have you no shame!" You watch it for incredible dialogue like this exchange as Barbarella is shown her winged lover dangling spread-eagled from a frame:


    (Holding a ray pistol to
    the Great Tyrant's head)
    De-crucify the angel!

    The Great Tyrant:



    De-crucify him or

    I'll melt your face!

    You watch it because it's unalloyed pleasure from start to finish. Pointless, decadent, excessive, sexy and cheesy in equal measure without a single message or subtext - and now the usual fuckwits are doing a remake.

  2. The Odd Couple ( 1968 ) - I love watching Walter Matthau's face.

  3. Mission Stardust (1967) - aka ...4 ...3 ...2 ...1 ...morte - a brilliant title for a terrible film. A rewatch and it was as dreadful as I remember but with a wonderful last line which I fully expect to come across sampled on a Kid Koala track one day. "The experiment has begun..."

  4. The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953) - a lot duller and ropier than I remembered.

  5. Warriors of the Wasteland (1982) - Before it was a Frankie Goes to Hollywood track Warriors of the Wastelands was the title of this awful semi-homophobic/erotic Mad Max rip off.

    In a post-apocalyptic future (2019) a gang of ruthless religious psycho-faggots called the Templars kill everything that moves whilst wearing resprayed costumes from Starlight Express. Opposing them is one man, Scorpio, and his weird stalker boyfriend who has the endearing habits of firing explosive arrows into people's heads and misreading his lines. Together with a blond, blue-eyed, pre-teen boy genius they eventually get round to slaughtering all the baddies - a task so ludicrously easy you wonder why they never bothered before. Lots of phallic pointy things come out of cars and are inserted into other cars, people, or just shoot things. The 'hero' is captured at one point and is anally raped by his former boyfriend in front of an admiring crowd of men standing to attention while wearing crash helmets. (Every other shot in this movie is of cheap sublimated penises.) In the end our hero, wearing leather trousers and some seriously kinky transparent body-armor kills the head bad guy by, literally - would I lie to you?, screwing him up the arse with a giant auger bit at 200 miles an hour!

    Never have I seen such lame car chases - it's hard to feel any tension when our hero and villain are fighting on top of a converted golf buggy hurtling along at - oh, I'd say at least three miles an hour. For a film that features vehicles hurtling along at 'breakneck' speeds it's remarkable how far people don't travel in this film. The whole thing looks like it was shot in a quarry in two days.

  6. UFO: Target Earth (1974) - I like this film. I like it a lot. My copy came as a part of a 50 movie DVD pack of classic SF films that no one has ever heard of and, of the 30 or so movies in there that are actually watchable, this is the one I keep coming back to - some are just too fucking awful to sit through, even for a battle hardened crap movie veteran like myself. (We have pissing contests you know, "You watched The Alpha Incident? Chicken feed! I watched Evil Brain from Outer Space! Beat that, looser!" ) UFO: Target Earth is a truly bewildering movie. It is transcendent. Somewhere along the way it stops being a bad film and sends the viewer a hypnotic trance-like state in which you are almost convinced there could be some point to watching it in the first place if you had even the slightest clue what the hell was going on. I have watched it several times now and I'm constantly amazed by its awe dropping incomprehensibility. It has a couple of starts, a lot of middle and an overextended end but none of them appear to be connected in any way. One of the wonderful techniques writer director Michael A. DeGaetano uses to create his overwhelming sense of otherness is his invention of 'the incredible budget-slashing one-sided telephone conversation shot' in which we get to watch, and listen to, long held shots of a secondary character holding a telephone to their ear and talking to our hero who is not only never seen but also never heard. I don't know whether this was a deliberate attempt to bring some kind of documentary-like verisimilitude to the show or whether the actor playing the lead had become so fed up with the shoot that he had just fucked off home and was unavailable for any insert shots but it's beautifully dreadful stuff.


    The room is a vast hall full of wardrobe sized computers with big whirling cartwheels of magnetic tape. This is a real location. Not a set.

    Cut to:

    Close up of a noisy dot-matrix printer printing out something scientific-ish - for a very long time... (16 seconds - I counted.)

    Cut to:

    Close up on assistant scientist sat at a desk with a telephone handset crushed to his ear.

    "Yeah, we're printing out your data now to see how your fixes are plotted... how's it look?... it looks wild, man, really wild... "

    Cut to:

    Close up of the noisy dot-matrix printer still churning away.

    (Assistant continuing over) "...Yeah, we should have a pretty good idea about where you should place your sensors...

    Cut to:

    Close up on assistant:

    " ... exactly ... yeah on the opposite side of the lake ... you know as far away from the camp-site as possible ... umm hmmm ... yep ... just a minute ... (he looks up and holds out the receiver) He wants to talk to you ... "

    Cut to:

    Looming face of elderly female scientist. She takes the phone and slows the action right down by doing some 'real, long pause listening' acting between her speeches - which she reads off the script cunningly disguised as the computer printout she's holding in her hand.

    "Alan, I want to know, and if you can't be absolutely scientific in your answer at least be calm ... did the old woman actually report a break up of lights? ... hmm ... and the structural steel discolourations ... could that be the metaphysical mind of your companion at work? ... (look of concern - or constipation - comes over her face) ... there are guards? ... and no report from the army ... hmmmm ... yes ... I'd like to report this to Dr. Wheeler ... unofficially of course ... I'll tell him you phoned ... cha ... cha ... I know, I know all of that but I just can't ... you can do it without me ... you don't need me ... yes ... I understand all that and thank you but I can't ... I'll keep an eye on the printouts here and if you need more help I'll see what I can do ... yes ... yes, I'll think about it, Alan ... I'll think about it ... all right ... goodbye.

    Cut to:

    Another few seconds of riveting, full on, dot-matrix action

    Of all that verbiage the only thing that is of any import to the plot is the bit about Alan placing his sensors "on the opposite side of the lake" because it vaguely sets up Alan going across the lake to do something unexplained while something incomprehensible happens to his female friend back at the camp-site.

    Who the hell 'Dr Wheeler' is is a total mystery - this is the only time he's mentioned and doesn't appear in the credits. Maybe the actor playing him fucked off home before he got on the set.

    Most of the people who appeared in this film never made another movie. Whoever was playing Dr Wheeler was lucky - he managed to avoid appearing in this one.

  7. Cherry 2000 (1988 ) - Dang! Missed it by that much. Cherry 2000 is one of those movies that almost makes it. Stuffed full of weirdy goodness but never quite jelling. In a post (unspecified) apocalyptic world, a recycling manager from Anaheim goes in search of a replacement for his Stepford Wife like sex robot which fritzed out while he was making love to it on the wet kitchen floor. The only known supply of this particular model, the Cherry 2000 of the title, is located in a semi-buried casino somewhere in desert badlands. The badlands are controlled by a band of psychopaths who wear a natty line in Hawaiian shirts and pastel shorts and, when they are not shooting people in the head or throwing them off cliffs, are more than happy to dance the Hokey Cokey and eat sandwiches. To guide him across this dangerous terrain our hero hires Melanie Griffiths who wears a red wig and drives an early sixties Ford Mustang. Let the endless car crashes and gunplay begin....

    It's as bonkers as it sounds and it almost works. Reminded me more than a little of Circuitry Man and Buckeroo Banzii. It had that same funny deadpan oddness about the script. It's the sort of movie Tank Girl should have been. Some stunning locations, great stunt work and inspired (but weird) production design helped, but in the end it sinks under the usual B movie tropes of endless gunplay and the millions of disposable goons who couldn't hit their own face with a brick.

  8. The Sisterhood (1988 ) - Dear mother of god! What a terrible film. In a post-apocalyptic future the usual Mad Maxims apply. Bands of warriors, mutants, battered vehicles, a 'Forbidden Zone', machinery left in an underground bunker for hundreds of years starting at the touch of a button, blah blah blah, all the usual shit. This time though a band of free warrior women in hotpants and gold painted plastic headbands roam free defying the normal Gorian rules.

    It may have just been the dreadful transfer on the DVD I watched (which looked like it was taken from a much played VHS copy) but the sound on this picture is dreadful. You really could tell the sound guys did not have a clue where to point the mike. People's voices disappeared into inaudible mumbles whenever they turned away from the camera, people in long shot were having to scream their lines to be heard, and anyone on horseback was drowned out by the clatter of the horses' hooves, even when the horses were at rest and the riders were having one of their tedious exposition laden conversations. Every time I watch a crappy movie I try to come away having learnt something. (One of these days my Premium Bonds are going to come up and I'll be free to make my own crappy movie.) Today I learned if you are shooting a conversation between scantily clad underachieving actresses sat on horseback you put a fucking blanket on the ground for the horses to stand on and point the fucking microphone at the actresses' fucking faces! Advice I shouted at the screen several times but the director took no notice.

    I also learned that I can watch no end of shit if it features sweaty women toting semi-automatic weapons.

  9. Special praise has to go to one Jun Latonio who produced the incredibly dreadful 'original music' for the film - presumably by stealing the sound guys' good microphone and recording various video arcade games while he played them for a few hours.

  10. Who Framed Roger Rabbit? - meh!

  11. Il ritorno di Clint il solitario (1972) - aka The Return of Clint the Stranger and There's a Noose Waiting for You Trinity! and so on and so forth. A plodding spaghetti/paella western saved only by Klaus Kinski and Ennio Morricone who could, I suspect, between them save anything. Screw Chuck Norris. Even when they are obviously just doing it for the money and going through the motions (as they are here) they're still better than 90% of the material they work on. This had all the hallmarks of one of those films that no one gave a shit about.

  12. 42nd Street (1933, or 1932, depending whether you believe the opening or the end credits) - I introduce daughter number one to Busby Berkeley. Number one daughter is delighted, "This is ridiculous!". I spot a previously un(IMDb)listed continuity error - the door number on an apartment changes between shots. I am a deeply sad, sad, sad man.

    One of the extras on the DVD was a contemporary short puffing the movie and contains snippets from the title finale number - including a couple of shots of this guy who didn't make the final cut. I can only presume the footage was from a rough cut or pre-release edit. The shot of the two boys dancing in front of the theatre, off to this guy's left (screen right), that appears a few moments later is different from the released version too.

  13. Die Screaming Marianne (1970) - I've been reading a lot of interviews with, and conversation between, film directors recently; one thing keeps coming up, time after time, when well kent directors talk about the craft/art of directing and editing. They'll often refer to the 'rhythms' or 'beats' of a movie. I'm still really not totally sure I understand what they mean but I sure as hell know when it's missing. Die Screaming Marianne hasn't got a rhythm. It manages to both meander and stutter along simultaneously, some shots are held far too long, others seem to be cut ludicrously and abruptly short. An incredibly long 90+ minutes in which one of the villain's shirts is more horrifying than anything else that appears on screen.

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