Monday, December 12, 2011

Hello Blog, nice to see you are still here.

Today Holly emptied her school bag. She didn't want to do it but I asked her to. It was a mess in there. Needed sorting.

"Make two piles," I said. "One for stuff you want to keep, the other for stuff that's for the bin."
"Okay," she said and started taking things out of the bag. "I've been looking for that pencil!" A few minutes later she had an impressive pile on the keep heap and a smaller pile in the garbage.

She stopped taking things out and looked into the bag. She put her hand in and had a rummage.

"Okay," she said. "I think everything else in there can go in the compost..."

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Sorry, but after two or even three almost real posts it's time for: (Fanfare please...)

The relatively short list of every film I watched in October.
  1. Beat (2000) - various progenitors of the 'beat movement' are imitated by various actors and the camera is pointed at them while they do so. I've never understood what made the the Beats so great; they've always come over to me like a bunch of self-obsessed pretentious druggy wankers but I guess their timing was right. I didn't come away from this film with my opinions changed or impressed in any way by the telling of the tale. Quite often you can see a film about characters you hate but still admire or enjoy the way the film is made. The music was nicely understated and whoever did the colour timing was good but other than that I was bored rigid.

  2. Daybreakers (2009) - A futuristic vampire flick which does that good old SF trick of saying "What if...?" and then riffing on it. This "What if...?" must have been something along the lines of, "What if the vampires in Matheson's 'I am Legion' had won?".* So - we get a nocturnal world which is pretty much the same as the modern world only run by vampires - with an ever dwindling supply of humans to feed from. Market forces come into play. Human blood prices skyrocket - cue cardboard cutout evil corporation blood farmers. (In this case the corporation really is evil 'cos it's run by Sam Neill who, since he was the Antichrist in Damien III: The Final Conflict, can play on-screen evil with his eyes shut and one arm tied behind his back - and he's a fucking vampire. An evil vampire corporation run by someone with Antichrist luggage; You don't get any more evil than this.) Vampire society is falling to pieces. One man holds out a possible hope for the future. Human-loving vampire scientist Ethan Hawke (who, since he played Vincent Freeman in Gattica can play lone sympathetic outsiders in a futuristic evil corporation with with his eyes shut and one arm tied behind his back). Unfortunately his formula for synthetic blood makes (vampire) people's heads explode. He makes contact with the human underground, who sense his inner decency and together they discover a blinder of a plot twist out of the arse cure, and after the usual amount of gun play, exploding vampires, and evil corporate suit types being dismembered in lifts, the heroes ride off into the sunrise with a voice over that suddenly makes the whole thing look like a shoddy 80s TV movie of the week pilot. Which is a pity because there was some interesting "What iffery" going on in the background. Some of the follow on logic that comes from having a society of vampires was pretty well worked out and fun. Trouble is the story it was there to support wasn't good enough to justify the effort. A nice try though.

    * ...oh poo, I just remembered. They did win, didn't they? (At least they did in the original book.)

  3. America Brown (2004) - an interesting buy from the Poundshop this one. Sometimes they have real films in there. Films you've never heard of right enough, full of people who you don't recognise but sometimes there's a goody in all the crappy, no-budget horror schlock.

    America Brown is a first (and so far only) feature from writer director Paul Black. It's a story of a young football player suffering a crisis of guilt and self-doubt who escapes Texas for a while to track down his childhood football hero (now a priest in New York). The story isn't complicated and the film is slow, takes its time, is never hurried but is never boring. I'm keeping hold of this one though for one superbly well-judged moment of nothing happening on the screen which I thought was wonderful. Towards the end of the film our hero is leaving New York. He says goodbye to the three friends he has made. And then descends the steps into the subway and out of our sight off screen. We see the three friends looking down after him. It holds on them looking. And holds. And holds. And then one says. "I wish I could do that." All the time we watch the friends we expect a cut. A cut to an angle from their POV (or near enough) of the boy leaving maybe stopping and turning, a final wave before he's gone? We don't get it. We wait but it doesn't happen. We wait just like the characters we're watching are waiting. He doesn't turn around. He just walks out of their sight. "I wish I could do that." It was a lovely bit of film making. Loved it. (And a nice counterpoint to the fact that when the two characters met they bumped into each other in the street and then both, taken with what they see, looked back at each other.)

    I wonder why I have suddenly started talking about films in the first person plural? I've obviously been reading far too many books of film criticism recently. Laocoon!)

  4. Thunderpants (2002) with the kids - and not for the first time. I love this film. A good old-fashioned family film about an 11 year old boy with uncontrollable flatulence. I really don't know why Disney didn't pick this one up because it's a real 'follow your heart' story. A young boy surmounts all the obstacles placed behind him to find his gift and achieve his dream - with fart jokes, (lots of fart jokes) it also has ludicrous opera singing scenes with the hero 'singing the high bits with my arse', a kid facing a firing squad, ritual humiliation, more fart jokes, and some crackingly knowing OTT performances by well kent faces - before climaxing in the launch of a shuttle rescue mission - powered by a tube stuck up our hero's bum.

    I find it hilarious. (Not a word I use lightly.) And I can thoroughly recommend it to all. If nothing else for the great weird design elements which mash -up an odd, never-really-happened, British early sixties (where the only vehicles on the streets are Minis and everything is various shades of bottle green) and a high-tech modern setting with an international space station and space shuttles. It's the kind of visual cognitive dissonance that I like.

    And it's got fart jokes.

  5. The Illusionist (2006) - I enjoyed that. Not sure it holds up plot wise (were we really expected to believe that the straw stables in the royal hunting lodge was unchanged for the several months between the night of the incident and the discovery of the locket?) but a good watch.

  6. The Matrix (1999). I first saw this when it first came out and I thought it was a pile of vastly overrated crap. Now, many years later and having watched many more much worse movies since, I thought it might be worth giving it another try.

    I still think it's crap.

    Actually the first few minutes are okay I like the movie up till the point where Maurice Fishbourne does the big reveal and explains what it's all about. The whole 'we are just batteries' bit just pushes a big red 'Oh Fuck Off!' button in my head. I persevered though and watched the eye candy but the bit that really made me laugh out loud was the moment when Carrie-Ann Moss' character brings our hero back from the dead with a kiss. Oh, come on! What!?!? Somehow we managed to get from a semi-decent looking, what is going on? SF distopia into a la-la Disney world where dead people are bought back from the dead with a whisper of love. I expected her to start singing and bluebirds to join in the chorus. This sort of thing is fine in fairy tales. Makes sense in fairy tales, part of the fairy tales rule book that is but in a 'science fiction ' film? Pants!.


    I realized it did make sense! Think about it. For the first umpty-x years of his life in The Matrix Reeves' character was a computer programmer. He lives alone in a room with computers. He's a hacker. He's a nerd. A social misfit. Now, just at the moment he's popping his clogs, a female woman of the opposite sex finally comes on to him? This is it! He might get sex! "Fuck this being dead lark," he's thinking with the last firing neurons in his head, "I might get to do sex - with someone else in the room! I'm going back!"

  7. The Matrix Reloaded (2003) - more of the same but with more slo-mo and Keanu Reeves wearing a cassock. And a real dubious morality which (for all the fanboy knicker-wetting about how deep and philosophical these films are) boils down to us being asked to root for religious fundamental terrorists as they kill vast numbers of innocent bystanders, blow up power stations, and similar delights.

  8. Altered States (1980) - given that it is directed by one of my least favourite directors, Ken Russell whose arty 'boundary pushing' just comes over as cheap and puerile self-indulgent wank to me, and that it starred one of my least favourite Hollywood actors, the plank of wood incarnate William Hurt, I enjoyed this a lot more that I expected. I came to scoff but I came away slightly impressed. Partially I think because Russell's throw-everything-at-the-screen-at-once, wacky, let's offend the Christians imaginary is largely confined to sequences where it actually makes some sense (ie one character's subjective drug-induced hallucinations) and Hurt's character is the sort of repressed unemotional lump that perfectly suits his repressed, clenched acting style.

  9. Transylvania 6-5000 (1985) - Shot in 30 days in Yugoslavia. A 'comedy horror' which wastes its pretty good cast on one lame gag after another. The last half hour is just painful to watch. Gina Davis was fun for the few minutes she was on but everyone else was either going through the motions or hamming it up horribly. The script stank. Not even old reliable Jeffrey Jones could rescue this - and he made bits of Howard the Duck watchable.

  10. They Wait (2007) - above average horror flick which, though serving up nothing particularly new, served it up more than competently and with a few genuine 'Made ya jump!' moments along the way. Sort of like Poltergeist with a Chinese slant. Ghosts, not gore to the front here with many of the special effects being done in camera and not with a truckload of CGI in post. I like stuff like that, moments where someone has thought through an on-screen gag to the point where it's all done with the actors and the camera; one character stepping to one side to reveal there's someone standing behind them - when you know there can't be anyone there because of what you just saw in the previous shot. That sort of thing. I like that sort of thing. I much prefer that sort of thing which is smart, and thought about, than all the 'body parts flying through the windows and incommoding the passers by' stuff. Don't need to see that. That's easy. Scare me witless with an attractive girl standing motionless on the pavement, staring fixedly at a doorway? that's clever.

  11. Arsenic and Old Lace - An all-time favourite. I'll be saying "Bon voyage!" in a Peter Lorre voice every time I leave a room for weeks now.

  12. Fantastic Mr Fox (2009) - a good way to commission BIG SCREEN Film and Pizza (but Occasionally Onigiri) family film night. As usual with kid's films I enjoyed this a lot more than I was expecting.

  13. King Kong (1933) - just to test if the new digital projector does black and white and 3:4. It does. Great film. Total cobblers but great fun.

  14. Art School Confidential (2006) - Damn. One of those films I really really wanted to like a lot more than I did. Being the son of an Art College lecturer, and often spending great chunks of my holidays in the art school studios as Dad worked on sculptures. And having then gone on to be an art student myself, I was really impressed by the feel and the art direction here. They got the ambience and the look just right. It was horribly, accurately, grotesque without having to exaggerate anything. Some great laugh out loud lines too:


    How long have you been painting triangles?

    Professor Sandiford:

    I was one of the first.


    Professor Sandiford:

    Now Eno, why haven't you

    been doing the assignments?


    Frankly, I find them constricting and

    largely irrelevant. My work has nothing

    to with form or light or colour, but

    with questioning the nature of

    aesthetic experience.

    Professor Sandiford:

    I'll buy that.

    Being two of my favourites. And I have forgiven John Malkovich for doing the shit Mutant Chronicles which is the last thing I saw him in. But in the end the whole serial murder mystery bit just didn't work for me and felt tacked on to make it sell-able to a studio.

    On the double-plus good side we get to see Sophia Myles naked, which, sad old fart that I am, I think would go a long way to rescue any movie. Am I getting old? because I was surprised to find that lines like "We used to bump cunts." are rated 15. When I was 15 I didn't know what a cunt was! let alone that a certain type of lady liked to bump theirs with other ladies. Nice to know some things have improved over the last 40 years.

  15. House of the Black Death (aka Blood of the Man Beast, Blood of the Man Devil - 1965) - a wonderfully incoherent pile of poo which just makes no sense. At all. None. I had no idea for its entire 89 minute run time what was supposed to be going on. As far as I could make out it had something to do with Lon Chaney Jr trying to take over power from John Carradine by running a coven and summonsing up a demon to get his hands on some sort of magical book. Carradine's son turns into a werewolf. A visiting doctor has a sliver of the Holy Grail in a crucifix. The film also has large-breasted British 50s sex bomb Sabrina belly dancing in a graveyard FOR NO APPARENT REASON WHATSOEVER. (Other than the obvious, her previous screen credit was as 'Virginia' in Blue Murder at St. Trinian's. If I remember rightly all her character did was sit there filling a tight-jumper with which she then tried to knock over the camera). There were great jumps in the narrative where a central character locked in a room not only transforms into a werewolf off-screen but then dies between one shot and another without any reason being given. Another pair of characters return from somewhere unexplained having seen something that completely turns one of their world views upside-down. (We never find out what they saw.) A character who, while guiding two others, says: "I'm only allowed to take you this far!" before abandoning them - only to reappear at their destination and then offer to guide them somewhere (else?). (They might have got away with this drastic bit of machete editing if the character in question hadn't been the only person in the entire film wearing a very identifiable black and white spotted shirt.) Another fine mess from Jerry Warren, the man who bought you Teenage Zombies, The Incredible Petrified World, and The Wild World of Batwoman - all of which I have seen at least twice and all of which, deliriously awful films that they are, are vastly better than this. To be fair, he was bought in at the last minute to 'rescue' the film which had been made by someone else. But how bad does a film have to be before you bring in Jerry Warren to rescue it?

  16. Caged Heat (1974) - Jonathan 'Silence of the Lambs' Demme's first feature and a delightfully weird little movie it is too. It sets up all the typical Women in Prison clichés and then ignores them (apart from extended shower scenes. This was a Corman production it was probably in Demme's contract that there had to be X number of tits on screen taking up Y number of minutes of running time - on reflection that's probably all there was in his contract. Give us ten minutes of tits and you can do what you want with the rest of it, so long as it's in colour and in focus.) So lots of tits. Sadistic guards, pervert doctor, dream sequences, sexually repressed governor, cartoon ultra-violence, lots of tits, a weird post-hippy revolutionary vibe, and a terrific score by John Cale complementing some very weird and fun sound design. Loved it. (And not just for the tits.)

  17. Matrix Revolutions (2003) - well that's them watched. God I was bored. Actually it started off disappointingly by not opening with Laurence Fishburne saying: "Previously, in the Matrix..." followed by one of those little two minute rapidly edited highlights of the previous films to bring you up to speed. You see, the previous film, Matrix Rides Again, had ended on an semi-cliffhanger and, even though I only watched it a couple of weeks ago, I had no idea what was going on at the start of this one. Towards the end of number three however, I was so bored I suddenly realised I was checking my mail on my phone. I NEVER check my mail while I'm watching a film, 99.9¼ of the time, no matter how awful it is, I watch the film. I may occasionally fall asleep while watching a film. I don't want to fall asleep, I want enjoy the movie, but sometimes... duh... wha? oh crap I fell aslee... who's he...? ...end credits? wha...? I fell asleep again... Okay... time for bed, try this one again tomorrow.

    If I just can't watch it, if it is so unbearable that even I can't stomach it, I turn it off. And even then I'm trying to work out why I'm not liking it enough to do that.

    At some point during Matrix Revolutions I became so uninvolved with the film that I forgot I was watching it. It just faded from my mind and became part of the background. Once I'd realised what had happened I stopped the film and went back a couple of chapters and sat on my hands for the rest of it. I wonder now why I bothered.

    (Incidentally if you type "ascii code page" into IMDb's search engine as I just accidentally did while trying to how to do the ¼ thing up there, the first hit it returns is All Nude Page 3 Models: Eve Vorley and Charmaine Sinclair (1997) (V) How? Why? What!?)

  18. Megamind (2010) - Friday night family film of some brilliance.

  19. Jazz on a Summer's Day (1959) - a total joy.

  20. Dune (1984) The David Lynch one (and not for the first time so I have no excuse) which, in a weird and grudging way, I quite like for the first half its run time. The second half things just get absurdly crammed in as Lynch runs out of ways to get characters to tell each other what was going on and he just shoves several hundred pages of densely plotted book into three quarters of an hour of screen time and it gets farcical. Afterwards, in a fit of pure masochism, I watched great chunks of the TV edit from which Lynch had his name removed. I don't blame him. His edit was weird and flawed but strangely interesting in places. (Like most of his films, I suppose.) The TV edit is just cheap and tacky.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

I think I've finally worked out why Peppa Pig is so popular; I saw this in a bookshop today:

Top-shelf magazines for three year olds

On further inspection it turned out to be a Bumper Activity Book. I had been almost worried for a second.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Another Brief Snippet From the Screenplay of my Life

(Clutching a small plastic tool-case
full of small plastic tools.)

Me got toolcase. I make something.


What are you going to make?




Monday, October 24, 2011

Drawers for Windows 3.11

This afternoon I finished a job that has been hanging around for a year or so. The bottom drawer of Merriol's chest of drawers has now finally had all the veneer replaced and new cockbeading run round the edge. It's not perfect but she has been without the thing for a long time and has recently been dropping really heavy hints:

"I don't care what it looks like - I WANT IT BACK!"

After last week's week of solitude when Merriol and the kids went down to Sheffield and let me watch rubbish horror films get on with some of the jobs that needed doing round here, I have finally got a grip on the guddle that is my workshop and can start to turn the tide of half-finished projects that is constupating it.

One of them was the drawer.

Tonight Daisy helped me bring it upstairs and put it in place. It isn't heavy I just enjoyed the 'help'. We slid it into the space. It stuck. The front edge protruded about 50mm into the room. We slid it out and looked in the carcass. Nothing there. We slid it back into position and tried again. It stuck again with the same 50mm protruding.

"Now why the hell isn't that going in?" I asked.
"Well it hasn't been in for a long time," said Daisy helpfully. "Maybe it doesn't recognise it."

Spends far too much time on the computer does that child.

Friday, October 21, 2011

I am a happy man.

Last month my mum and dad bought me a digital projector for my birthday. Last week I ceiling mounted the thing under the balcony in our stupidly tall living room. Today I found (in a skip at the local recycling centre) a projection screen big enough to make use of it.

It took me about five minutes, a small piece of gaffer tape, and a large brass washer to fix the problem which had presumably got it thrown away in the first place. A bit of sorting of plugs and cables in the dangerous cable place behind all the electronics stacked in the space under the stairs* and we all settled down for tonight's regular Friday Night Family Film (with pizza) looking up at a 1.5m wide image thrown at it over our heads from the ceiling mounted projector. It is as close a simulacrum of a real cinema as I'm ever going to achieve, unless my Premium Bonds come up, and I loved it.

Daisy showed people to their seats. Next week she's going to have a box with choc ices in it slung round her neck.

There's something very special to me about looking UP at a cinema screen. Most films these days are consumed at home or in steeply raked cinemas where, more often than not, you are looking down on the screen or at least you're at at eye-level with it. Which is a pity. There's something very magical about being forced to look up at the action. If you think about it, churches and other places of transcendental entertainment are always designed to make you look up. All those high arches, splendid ceilings, crucifixes mounted high up on the walls. You worship kneeling down and heaven and god are up above you. The priest mounts a pulpit before he speaks. 'Lift your eyes and look to the heavens' Isaiah 40:26. There's something about human brains that gets all mystical when it's tilted back for a long time. Or, if not mystical, then certainly suggestible. This is why the stars of Hollywood's golden era(s) were worshipped. The audience were assuming the body postures of supplicants and this influenced the way they perceived what happened in front of their eyes**.

And big screens are great too because you have to move your eyes. With a television, even a large one most of what is happening on screen can be seen at a glance. With a big screen you have to move your eyes to find out what is happening. On a really big screen you have to turn your whole head. In the days when Real Cinemas ruled the world and screens were the size of football pitches stood on their side, people could get serious neck injuries from keeping up with the action.

Okay, here's an example. Standard head-on shot of two people sat in the front of a car driving along. Suspend your disbelief and put aside your knowledge that they are in fact in a car that is being towed, and there is a film crew sat on the bonnet (possibly in a large black tent to stop refection in the windscreen). You're watching two people, in a car, having a conversation. The director doesn't cut away from this angle for a long time. On a TV this is a pretty boring shot. There's two people staring out at you, you stare back, they're talking. On a large screen you can't look at both of their faces at the same time. You have to choose. As the conversation goes on you turn your attention from one face to another, and you don't necessarily look at the person who is doing the talking. As in real life you want to see (if you are at all interested) what the other person is thinking about what he is being told. By doing this, by turning your head, choosing which face to look at, you become a participant in the film instead of a mere observer.

I like being in the movies.

*From top to bottom: Record deck, Sky box, Amp., CD player, Cassette deck, MiniDisc player, audio switching box, DVD player, VHS player, and a PS2. Unplugged at the moment but contributing to the guddle are a Betamax player, a Nintendo 64, and a Sega Dreamcast - there's also an unidentified silvery box lurking back there which may be another satellite decoder; I'm scared to look. Add the three extension cables that this lot hang off, and all the cables for the possibly defunct TV amplification/distribution scheme Len and I built into this house some years ago (theoretically we should be able to pipe anything going into the TV to all the rooms upstairs), and you can see why I only go back there after telling people where I'm going and how long I expect to be. "If I'm not back in twenty minutes tie a rope to one of the kids and send them in after me."

I really must make a schematic of it all one day.

Remembering what combination of knobs and switches you need to twiddle on the front can be a bit daunting too.

** I realise this argument falls flat on its arse as soon as you mention the word 'balcony' but I like it.

Monday, September 12, 2011

ebay's open door policy
Gods! this piece of shit graphics is annoying me. It's from eBay's current sign-in page. 'Look,' it's supposed to say. 'You can trust us. We've got a scary woman with muscley arms standing behind a hatch half way up a wall. Nothing can get past her. You're safe.'

That's what it's supposed to imply.

What it say to me is: 'Walk right in and help yourself.' Look at those doors. Just look at them. There's no way they are going to meet. Just look at them. Push them to and there'd be a two foot gap between them. And what are those keys for? The key on the right is in a keyhole that isn't attached to a lock of any kind. There is a lock on the other door - you can tell it's a lock because the bolt is out - though what the bolt is supposed to go into isn't apparent because there's no where for it to fit into on the other door - not that they meet anyway.

Once inside, assuming you can get past scary, but reassuring, folded arms woman (arms crossed, a classic 'guarded' posture but with a calmly confident smile) - maybe by waiting she goes for a pee, she can't stand there all day - you're into the hub of eBay's crack team of cyber crime fighters. CSI:eBay. Who seem to be happily standing around chatting, looking out of the window, and generally goofing off rather than pummelling account-jackers to bloody pulps with blunt instruments or water-boarding those idiots who pointlessly list shit that no one in their right minds is going to buy (because a there are 30,000 identical items, without any bids on, already listed at a lower price.) That's what I want the people in charge of making sure my account isn't ripped off by some Russian scammers to be doing. I want eBay to be patrolled by Judge Dredd and rabid Rotweillers, not some extras from the Ikea catalogue.

Rant over.

Friday, September 09, 2011

I'm going to jump the gun here and give you a wee chunk of this month's movie list 20 days early: Over the past few days I've climbed off my Crap Italian SF Tits and Arse Zombie Horror Movie treadmill and watched some real films. With subtitles and proper acting. No zombies. No spaceships. People. (Okay, sometimes they're naked people but it's ART naked, not Tits and Arse naked; there's a difference.) Two nights ago:
Le Mépris (1963) - Jean-Luc Godard is another one. I mean he's another 'great' French film director I just don't get. In Le Mépris we get to watch Bridgette Bardot and Michel Piccoli walk about a lot, climb in and out of the bath and wander about some more as they spend 70 minutes trying to work out whether to go Jack Palance's villa in Capri (or not), eventually they decide to go then spend 20 minutes being unhappy when they get there, "Why do you hate me?" - and then one of them dies in an off-screen road accident.


Because the copy I watched was a VHS on the BFI Connoisseur label (50p inc. postage on eBay) I slipped out the insert to read the extensive notes printed therein:

'Following the gleeful iconoclasm of his early features, Godard achieved maturity in a string of masterworks interrupted, post 1968, by a decade of Laocoon-like struggles with Marxism and cinematic deconstruction.'

Laocoon it turns out (I looked him up) was a Trojan priest who got smitten by the gods for fucking in church. First blinded, and then strangled by a snake. (And I hereby repent of the quickie I had in that baptist church in Cardiff all those years ago with a Swedish girl whose name I forget.)
As you may have gathered I had never come across this Laocoon feller before in my puff.

This Laocoon Feller mid-smite.
Arty T&A (and willies)

Tonight, in the bath reading the final entry in the Dilys Powell Film Reader (which has been my bathroom book for the past couple of months), I read:
'Suddenly, as I recall whole days spent with eyes trained on a Laocoön-complex of heaving pectoral muscles and shoulder blades...'

Or not. Maybe it's some sort of badge of honour for film critics to mention him. Maybe it's part of some elaborate arty in-joke. The Laocoön Complicity, isn't that a Robert Ludlum? Now that I've cracked it I expect Alexander Walker to turn up on my doorstep with a bucketful of money and the key to the Sight and Sound executive bathroom.

Or not.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Just to get the tediousnocity out of the way for the month, it's my monthly record of eyeball abuse. This week with tits! and Brian Blessed! (I almost had you interested there.)

  1. Dragonslayer (1981) - which for my sins I have never seen before. Daughter number one chose it for a family film night - she's got a thing about dragons at the moment and was reassured that, because it was a Disney film, 'it wouldn't be (too) scary'. That's that rule of thumb gone down the drain then. We were both snuggled together on the sofa but I don't know who was reassuring whom. A Disney film with nudity and where the feisty princess gets eaten! What a eye-opener. I loved it. Fucking brilliant dragon too, but Ralph Richardson as usual, and without breaking sweat, stole the show away from everyone. Damn, that man had great timing. (H)

  2. The Elevator (1996) - A successful Hollywood writer/producer gets trapped in a lift and he has to endure hearing four semi-demented short scripts of a wanabee writer trapped in there with him. An incredibly long 92 minutes. Starring the writer, and the producer (who were, at the time, married) the shorts we get to 'enjoy' are dull predictable talking-head two handers with occasionally some very abrupt lurches into stagy theatre lighting thrown in. Currently not flying off the shelves in Poundlands everywhere.

  3. Highlander II: The Quickening (1991) - What an unholy mess of a film. To help the audience cope with the previously unsuspected fact that fictional Scottish icon Connor MacCleod 'The Highlander' (played by Frenchman Christopher Lambert) and his Spanish oppo Juan Sánchez Villa-Lobos Ramírez (played by real life Scottish icon, Sean Connery) are in fact really aliens from the planet Zogfart the script has to have characters recap the story so far:

    Okay, now let me just see if I can get this straight... You're mortal there but you're immortal here, until you kill all the guys who're from there who've come here... and then you're mortal here. Unless you go back there, or some more guys from there come here, in which case you become immortal here - again.

    Something like that.

    When they got round to making Highlander 3 they pretended this one hadn't happened.

  4. The Lawnmower Man (1992) - One of those films that has been on my radar for a while - ie it keeps turning up in car boot sales but I have never actually got round to buying it. It usually manifests itself on one of those Hollywood four films on two DVD disc sets along with three other films no one wants to watch. Today I found it in one of my local charity shop haunts where they give away VHS tapes, they're so unsaleable these days. So, finally, I get to watch The Lawnmower Man for free! - well, for the price of the electricity used to power the TV and VHS player (+ 35 or so p for the popcorn) - and as it was originally intended. On a big box, ex-rental VHS with 20 minutes of trailers for films no one wanted to watch (then or since) and adverts for the Commodore Amiga 600 home computer.

    The Lawnmower Man (when I finally got to it after all the hard sell) turns out to be your usual Hollywood mashup on the Frankenstein theme. This time thrown into the mix are great chunks of classic heartbreaker SF story Flowers for Algernon and slabs of Tron, other randomly tossed in ingredients included the Evil Corporation (whose evil minions handily keep boxes of easy to operate, push button demolition charges in their standard evil henchmen black vans), a cute kid, an evil priest, and an hilariously inept set piece in which an abusive father is chased round his own home by a telepathically controlled killer lawnmower. As shite as it sounds. There was a sequel - for which I am now actively searching.

  5. Sphere ( 1988 ) - Ditto radar, ditto car boot sales, same charity shop. Sphere is Solaris underwater with explosions, mutilations, death and oodles of dodgy make-it-up-as-we-go-along Hollywood 'science'.

    The trailers were less interesting on this tape. Couldn't tell you what they were for but I do remember noticing that more of them were adverts for things than for other films. This VHS copy was released a few years later than The Lawnmower Man one and for sale rather than rental. I guess the marketing guys have it all worked out that repeat viewers are more likely to be sold Mars Bars than being reminded of the awfulness of Project Shadowchaser. One thing that hadn't changed though was that both tapes started with British Voice-over Man loudly booming, "Beware of Illegal Video Cassettes!" at me. Makes them sound dead scary and dangerous. Like little cuboid gremlins that'll slide out from underneath the furniture and bite your ankles*. I watch my films with all the lights off and a bag of popcorn to hand in as close an approximation to a cinema experience as I can manage in my own living room (I even change seats twice before I'm happy and yesterday outdid myself by spilling a fizzy drink so the floor ended up all sticky). Before I sit down to a film these days I've taken to looking behind the sofa in case there are illegal video cassettes lurking down there, waiting to attack me during 'a scary bit'. God, I wish the films I watched were more interesting.

    * The film rights to this stupid idea are still available, talk to my agent.

  6. Alien Resurrection (1997) - Another set of dittos. Loathed and castigated by many die hard Alien fans (there are some weird people in the world; they're MOVIES, you saddos!). This is the fourth in the series, and looked at in isolation (it's many years since I saw 1, 2, and I'm not sure if I've ever seen 3 all the way through), is not that bad a film for a 'Oh crap we're trapped in an enclosed environment with KILLER THINGIES and the only way out takes us via an infeasibly complex route' type film. Okay, it goes a bit tits up at the end but so do a lot of other films loved by cadres of devoted hardcore fans. There were some nice touches here, a few genuine scares, and a couple of laugh out loud moments - the best surely being the moment when Rod Perlman's character freaks out after an Alien attack and uses a HUGE gun to shoot a normal sized spider on its web.

    The script is credited to Joss Whedon and I was struck by the similarities between the ragtag crew of opportunists and smugglers from 'The Betty' and the ragtag crew of smugglers and opportunists from Firefly, a series Whedon brought to the screen 5 years later.

  7. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) - I wanted to like this so much. It started well but I was fed up and irritable by the end of it. So much so that I was in full on nitpicking mode. For example, when Edmund gets mortally wounded near the end, and then gets dosed with Susan's 'Get Out Of Jail' magic 'One Drop Will Cure Anything' juice that Father Christmas gave her - he recovers. One second Argh Ugh Snotty little twerp dying from having a sword thrust into his belly, the next, sitting up big hugs loves and kissy kissy. By Jingo that's some good stuff!. Why didn't it immediately heal the split lip the make-up department had been diligently keeping continuity with on his bottom lip? You can see I was really involved with the action can't you? And was the wicked Jadis's chariot pulled by polar bears as some kind of dig by the overtly Christian producers at well known atheist Philip Pullman's polar bear-like panserbjørne? The kids, needless to say, LOVED it. (L)

  8. Cosmos War of the Planets (1977) Prompted by a post on another forum I rewatched this - and so can you! It's available free via I thoroughly recommend it to all. It is a very unintentionally funny and very surreal film. I defies all known conventions of film logic (even Italian ones). For most of it's running time it Just. Makes. No. Sense. I imagine it would be even surrealier* and funnier stoned but even dead cold sober (9 years and counting) it's still laugh out loud stupid. And contains moments of SF genius that will live with you for years - no matter how hard you try to forget them. I especially recommend the 'sex' scene at the 23 minute mark. Now THAT's foreplay.

    AND it has well-endowed Astro-crumpet to try and distract.
    from the plot deficiencies. What more could a man ask for?

    * there is now.

  9. Ghostwatcher (2002) - Zero budget, underachieving 'horror' that almost had a couple of nice moments but was so plodding tedious that I ended up watching the last third with my thumb on the FF button of my remote. Another £1 wasted at Poundland. Laughing all the way to the bank those buggers.

  10. Space Cowboys (2000) - I loved it. A real joy of a film - right until the moment they actually got into space and it suddenly went from being a gentle, amusing, and well presented tale about friendship and regret, redemption and ambition finally being achieved - and turned into Moonraker...

    Holy crap what just happened?

    It was like the last reel was from a different film, like The Dish suddenly turning into Mad Max for the last twenty minutes, or Gregory's Girl turning into Highlander II. The only saving grace was that it looked like nobody involved - apart from the special effects guys - gave a fart about this bolted on, 'we got to do this shit to sell it to the studios', 'action' sequence and it is an utter shambles.

  11. Tropic Thunder ( 2008 ) - Started off funnily enough but by the end had descended into a slice of the usual America wish-fulfilment crap in which any bunch of American Male amateurs, no matter how stupid, armed with with automatic weapons - even loaded with blank ammunition - can beat the crap out of any army of non-Americans with automatic weapons, no mater how well-trained, profession, or desperate they are. The only thing that really kept me watching till the end was Robert Downey Jr.'s show-stealing turn as the Australian actor who 'blacked up' for his role and always stayed in character until he'd recorded the DVD commentary.

  12. Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961) - Some really shoddy science (simultaneous nuclear bomb tests knock the world out of orbit and towards the sun) but some great film making. A smart script that has our protagonists acting like real people in the face of possible catastrophic end of the world. They carry on doing their jobs and hope for the best. Nothing they can do, no false heroics, no Hollywood bullshit and even after studio interference the film has a wonderfully unresolved ending. (The world is basically fucked - or it isn't. We don't find out.)

    I'd never seen it with the coloured bookend sections before, they were a nice surprise. The opening is tinted a hot bright orange and the film is told in a nice cool black and white flashback. And I don't remember it being so damn sweatily sexy either:

    Curiously she didn't ever work for Disney again after this... )

    Apparently I have been remembering a slightly less fleshy, American version in which the same scenes were played out with Janet Munro showing less boobage. We used to make damn fine films in this country.

  13. The Bruce (1996) - and we also made some right old shit too. Starring Brian Blessed, Oliver Reed, and 'Wolf' from the Gladiators*...

    ...The Bruce, tells the story of Robert the Bruce, Earl of Carrick, as he unites the 13th Century Scots in a rebellion against the hated English, led by Edward I - not to be confused with the film Braveheart (which came out the year before) in which William Wallace, a commoner, unites the 13th Century Scots in their battle to overthrow English rule. Not that anyone would confuse the two. For starters Braveheart had a budget that extended beyond getting the local battle re-enactment societies to amble past the camera in their Sunday best and unenthusiastically cheer from time to time. I presume they could also afford some professionals. It must be hard trying to recreate the Battle of Bannockburn with a hundred amateurs and the one stunt man mentioned in the credits. Dreadful music too. It just maundered around trying to be endlessly stirring and ended up underlining the deficiencies in the direction and a script which flopped all over the place and pissed away all the hard work put in by the actors. One particularly dreadful moment came when Robert the Bruce encounters the treacherous Comyn in church. Comyn points out they cannot fight on hallowed ground, this sentiment, expressed by one Hairy Scot Wig (tm) bewigged actor to another can only mean one thing to a true red-blooded Scot (or bad movie fan)... HIGHLANDER! As the entire audience cry; "There can only be one!" the two have a badly arranged fight and Comyn is killed, but, sadly, not beheaded in an orgy of special effects. The Bruce flees and the body is discovered. "Murder! ... Sacrilege!" the discoverer cries. And continues to cry, over and over again, "Murder! ... Sacrilege! Sacrilege! ... Murder! ... Sacrilege!" as the directors leisurely pans down the victim's outstretched arm to eventually arrive at The Bruce's cross clutched in his hand. I guess the intention was to have this damning piece of evidence used later in the film to prove The Bruce as the killer - except it isn't. It's never mentioned again. Either the sequence it was placed there for was edited out, never shot, or, more likely than not, never scripted. So why have the extended shot in there at all? And why have the off-camera voice of the poor sod actor endlessly shouting "Murder! ... Sacrilege! ... Sacrilege! Murder! ... Sacrilege!" as it played? Well, there had to be something on the soundtrack I suppose but it's really down to bad editing and shitty direction. Add, rubbish lighting, minimal set dressing (everyone in the 13th Century lived in huge castles with no furniture, or small hovels with no crops in the surrounding fields), occasional adequate acting (did I mention Brian Blessed was in it?), and you have a seriously dull film on your hands.

    *The trailer for production company Crowell Pictures' previous film, Chasing the Deer, contained the immortal line "...and introducing fish..." which sent my mind off in 34 different directions (including a hilarious 'Haddock meet Cod, Cod, Haddock' routine) before I was vastly disappointed to realise they meant Fish, the singer from Genesis-lite prog rockers Marrilion, making his feature film début.

  14. Toy Story (1985?) - Eben, aged 2, gets to chose this week's Weekly Family Pizza Night film. He likes Buzz.

  15. American Scary (2006) - A slight, cheaply made, documentary - ie lots of talking heads sat in front of wrinkled fabric draped across the background - giving a whistlestop history of the TV Horror Movie Host. A peculiar minor art in which people dress up in Halloween costumes and and introduce crappy films on local TV stations late at night. No Cassandra Peterson (Vampira) boo! but they managed to get Maila Nurmi (Vampira), and Neil Gaiman (Neil Gaiman) to talk to them. What could have been an interesting little project was spoiled by obvious TV slot editing and some dreadful music. As a way of gluing the rapid machine gun cutting of talking heads together someone had the bright idea of running music underneath everything like musak in a lift. It got very irritating.

  16. Zombie Strippers ( 2008 ) - There were actually a couple of nice gags buried in this piece of shit. Small ones. Not worth digging for. Why do American males in films turn into howler monkeys at the sight of a pair of plastic tits? I spent half the film bemusedly fascinated by the rigid immobility of Jenna Jameson's boobs. I wasn't punching the air with mock hysteria like the extras in the club, I was trying to work out what they were. They were fascinating, looked like like pink soup bowls stuck on the front of her chest - with nipples on top.

    The IMDB tells me that the film came in under budget, by which I can only assume the director didn't have a second cup of coffee.

  17. Catch Me If You Can (2002) - Well that was an amiable bit of fun.

Dear Blog. It's been months since I bored the world with an Every Book I have read list. In fact I don't seem to have done it at all this year. So here goes:

  1. The Dancers of Noyo - Margaret St.Clair. 'How long would men dance beneath the whips of the androids?' Dull 1973 SF novel in which our heroes get captured and escaped with relentless monotony (sometimes between chapters) and a lot of unexplained spooky action at a distance stuff goes on, groovy cover though.
  2. The City Dwellers - Charles Platt (1970) A collection of linked short stories, snaphots from a loose future history that charts the decline of the human population which clings stubbornly to a decaying city. Reminded me that I haven't read Bradbury's Martian Chronicles for a few years. I like books that are collections of short stories that form a larger narrative. Keith Roberts Pavane is very good example. The City Dwellers is a pale shadow of both those books.
  3. The Jungle Book - Rudyard Kipling Bedtime reading with the girls.
  4. Projections 10 - ed. Mike Figgis
  5. The Food of the Gods - HG Wells. 40 odd years since I read this. I must have been a tenacious reader as a kid or skipped a lot. I don't remember it being anything like a preachy as it is. People sermonise at each other at great length.
  6. Diary of a Nobody - G & W Grossmith


  1. Gentlemen of the Road - Michael Chabon. Rollicking old-fashioned historical adventure yarn full of hairsbreadth escapes and convenient coincidences which only stopped me dead in its tracks once. The word 'teamster' seemed wildly out of place in the world of the Byzantine Empire.
  2. The Syndic - C M Kornbluth. A 1953 SF novel set in a future where the Syndicate and the Mob rule. Surprisingly funny.
  3. The Priests of PSI - Frank Herbert. More proof, if proof be needed, that had he not written Dune, Herbert would be long forgotten by now.
  4. Solaris - Stanislaw Lem. I have meant to read this for a long long time. The 1972 film version has been a favourite of mine since I first saw it in the mid 70s. After repeated watchings I'm still no clearer what it's all about. Reading the book hasn't really helped me to a deeper understanding of it. The film is much more layered and mysterious, with the book (which in parts I found ponderously dull) acting as a central core from which much more interesting ideas and images have been spun.
  5. Vortex: New Soviet SF - Ed. C G Bearne. More Soviet era SF. Short stories this time, a couple of them interesting, A couple just dull and a couple of them so hackneyed they wouldn't have been out place in a copy of Tales to Astonish:
  6. Run to the Stars - Michael Scott Rohan. Modern(ish) but 'good old-fashioned', 'only one man can save the Earth', crash and bash SF. (Except that, in the end, he doesn't manage it and the implication is that he also fails to stop a planet full of aliens getting destroyed too.)


  1. Toyman- E C Tubb. The third (of the 33) adventures of lone rent-a-hero, Earl Dumarest as he wanders the galaxy looking for his lost home planet, Earth. I read several of these as a kid and remember them as not being that interesting. I was right. Page turning pulp from an author credited with writing over 140 novels and 230 short stories and novellas, many of which I must have read but none that I can bring to mind. Curiously, re-reading Toyman 35 or so years after I first read it bought back none of the memories of time or place that re-reading half remembered books often invoke. Utterly forgettable - I probably didn't even notice I was reading it.
  2. Tales of Wonder - H G Wells. Not quite as wonderful as they probably once were but interesting as precursors of modern SF. One story 'The Star' is an interesting precursor of Wells' own War of the Worlds.
  3. Mission to the Stars - A E Van Vogt. More weirdness from Van Vogt - though not as weird and badly written as his later stuff. Starts out as a rip roaring full blown space opera (one spaceship has a crew of 30,000!) and ends as a cheesy romance. The odd shape of the book may be due to the fact it is a 'fix-up' of previously published stories.
  4. Into the Labyrinth - Francoise Mallet-Joris. 'A tender and Brutal Story of Forbidden Love' no less.

    A French teenager is seduced by her father's mistress and swans around wallowing in self-inflicted teenage misery for 150 pages before deciding to stop.

    I adored her for saying that. She was holding in her lap a long sheaf of flowers and she looked, in her yellow blouse, like a dazzling idol a Mexican or Incan godess in a temple lost in the jungle full of precious stones and serpents. And on my shoulder she laid her hand, that brown, hard, lined hand of a haymaker, not at all the hand of a sexual pervert but rather a hand made to lie on the neck of a horse or the hip of a woman, with its fingers a little too flat, a little too supple, evoking the hands of Chinese torturers.
    The author was only 19.

  5. Veruchia - E C Tubb. More instantly forgettable adventure (5 of 33) with lone rent-a-hero, Earl Dumarest. This time the book contained a fantastic amount of blank paper. Most publishers seem to like to start chapters on the recto (right hand) page so if a chapter ends somewhere on a right hand page it will be immediately followed by a blank verso (left hand) page. Here chapters are headed by a chapter number that takes up a whole page. The numbers aren't very big and are surrounded by a lot of white paper (well yellowish and slightly foxed paper, this book is 40 years old), this is followed by a blank verso page and the text of the next chapter starts about a third the way down the following recto. This book is 191 pages long. By the time you have taken away all the blurbs, printing history, 'other books by this author', title page, and advertising at the back, you are left with 181 pages. 18 pages of that (10%) are totally blank apart from the chapter numbers (that's whole pages, I haven't included all the bits, the blanks thirds at the start of every chapter and the half empty pages at their ends which must add up to another four or five pages in total). No wonder it didn't take long to read.


  1. Of Time and Stars - Arthur C Clarke. More quaint, old-time SF shorts.
  2. Kaleidoscope Century - John Barnes.
  3. Raven 2: A Time of Ghosts - Richard Kirk the pen name for Robert Holdstock who was writing with his tongue firmly stuck in his cheek. Well, I hope he was taking the piss; it made me laugh so much.

  4. Invasion of the Body Snatchers - Jack Finney. A crackingly well paced little chiller which copped out at the end - the films' endings are a vast improvement.
  5. Sea-horse in the Sky - Edmund Cooper. Read in one sitting, in one eyeball out the other, 'so what' SF.
  6. The World Grabbers - Paul W Fairman. Mercifully short novel of indeterminate genre in which our hero goes from one pointless circular conversation to another without learning anything about his nemesis or why a mysterious group of mystics won't stop him from taking over the world. Right at the end of the book the mysterious group of mystics do decide to stop him taking over the world for no apparent reason (other than the author had hit his contracted number of words) and the book just stops. Groovy cover though..

    by Jim Barker, on Flickr

  7. Earth Abides - George R Stewart. Early (1949) post-apocalyptic SF.
  8. A Rage in Harlem - Chester Himes

    Another book bought for 25p just because I liked the cover. What a discovery. It's great. I'm on the lookout for more Himes.
  9. Duel - Ed. William Patrick, a collection of "Horror stories of the road" that varied from ancient and creaky stories that just didn't bear resurrecting to a couple of interesting, more modern pieces. The best is the title story by Richard Matheson.
  10. Charisma - Michael Coney. Mid 70s British SF novel which swithers between being a traditional crime novel (who did murder the obnoxious hotel owner businessman Mellors?) and a parallel world love story. The only people who can travel to a parallel world have to be dead in the world they are going to; if the person in the destination world was still alive and the two met they would cancel each other out and vanish. The hero loves a girl who is dead in this world and conversely he is dead in hers. Lots of to-ing and fro-ing between worlds as the hero becomes the main suspect in the murder case (probably because he did it - or rather his doppelgänger from another world did.) Lots of the same characters dying in different ways and it's all getting wonderfully confusing and mind-boggling before it all gets resolved in a cop-out ending that appears from nowhere. (But with a final twistette to sweeten the disappointment.) Christopher Nolan should make a film version.


  1. Wildeblood's Empire - Brian M Stableford. Innocuous mid 70s SF.
  2. The Anarchistic Colossus - A E van Vogt. Late, and therefore almost incoherent, van Vogt. Van Vogt is one of those rare writers who actually seemed to get worse over the years. SF writer and critic Damon Knight said that
    van Vogt "is no giant; he is a pygmy who has learned to operate an overgrown typewriter." Knight described The World of Null-A as "one of the worst allegedly-adult science fiction stories ever published." About van Vogt's writing in general, Knight said:
    In general van Vogt seems to me to fail consistently as a writer in these elementary ways: 1. His plots do not bear examination. 2. His choice of words and his sentence-structure are fumbling and insensitive. 3. He is unable either to visualize a scene or to make a character seem real.

    And though I agree with just about every word of that I find his books compulsive reading. They are so odd I just can't put them down and while his contemporaries from the Golden Age went on to write longer and longer more complex tomes (I'm thinking particularly of Robert Heinlein's later doorstops of novels) van Vogt continued write fairly short books. This one clocks in at 176 pages and I had no idea what was going on for most of them.
  3. The Wages of Fear - Georges Arnaud. Another book picked up because I liked the groovy cover - then remembered the film was pretty terrific.

    The book is pretty good too. From time to time it looks like it's suffering from translator trouble and it takes a long time to get to the meat of the story but when we get there the almost suicidal attempt to drive two trucks loaded with Nitroglycerine along a rough and unmade South American road is gripping stuff.
  4. Lieutenant Gullivar Jones: His Vacation (1905) - Edwin Lester Arnold. Limp 'I go to Mars by some magical means (flying carpet!?) and almost have some incredible coincidence-laden adventures, including rescuing and falling in love with a Martian princess, before being mysteriously returned to Earth'. Six years later Edgar Rice Burroughs used almost exactly the same storyline in his A Princess of Mars, Burroughs made his hero more vigorous and proactive, made the coincidences even more outrageous, and cleaned up. Princess of Mars still sells by the shitloads and is getting a film adaptation as we speak, Gullivar Jones is an obscure bit of SF that is almost totally forgotten; though the character Gullivar Jones does geekily turn up from time to time in more modern works. He is the first character to appear (magic carpet and all) in Vol 2 of Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen adventures.
  5. Simon Rack: Earth Lies Dreaming - Laurence James. The first book by the incredibly prolific Laurence James (he wrote at least 150 books under various pseudonyms). The first of a short lived series, five books were published, featuring an interstellar James Bond type and his pun prone sidekick. All sex and violence. Being published in the seventies the violence is bone-crunching, eyeball-poppingly graphic and, being British, the sex never quite happens on the page. It's total shite.
  6. The Monitors - Keith Laumer. Funny (in places)1960's SF.


  1. The Undercover Aliens - AE van Vogt aka The House That Stood Still which is my second favourite pointless book title. (The first is The Man With Only One Head). More bewilderingly plotted nonsense from a master of the genre. This time the bewilderingly plotted nonsense concerns a bunch of immortal Aztec cultists and their radioactive marble house and one of their number's overly complex shenanigans to destroy the others and take over the world. When I tell you that the plot involves secret tunnels (as does every other van Vogt book I have read. I suspect he wrote secret passages into his spaceships when he could), immortal Aztecs pretending to be Martians and destroying nuclear bomb factories in hostile countries, secret spaceships that launched from (and returned to - without anyone noticing) downtown office blocks, lifelike masks which could be applied in seconds and make the wearer indistinguishable from whoever they were modelled upon, a three thousand year old mind-reading alien robot, a private investigator, phials of three thousand year old plus transuranic elements 'unknown on Earth', and a hero who manages to fall in love with the daughter of an ancient Roman official in Britain (shipwrecked in California (sic) on her way home to Rome) - and get slugged unconscious several times during the course of the 172 pages, you will have some idea of why, even having just finished the damn thing, I have no idea who did what to whom or why in the end. Imagine Enid Blyton deciding to write an SF novel while on acid. That's the flavour.
  2. Screen Burn - Charlie Brooker. I laughed. A lot. I have no idea who half the people he was talking about were but his spleen is so well vented I don't think I missed much. Most wannabee celebulites are pretty interchangeable anyway (from what I gather from my brief glances at the covers of Hello!, Chat! Take a Break! and Twat! and the other celeb mags up on display at the checkouts in Morrisons - in true Charlie Brooker style I just made that last one up though, to continue in Brooker mode, it would make make a great magazine - Celebs naked from the waist down. I'd buy it.) More!
  3. The Status Civilization - Robert Sheckley.
  4. Dawn of the Dumb - Charlie Brooker. I laughed. A lot. Again.
  5. The Saint Closes the Case - Leslie Charteris. I've never read a Saint book before which I thought was an oversight. I doubt if I will read another.


  1. Body Politic - Paul Johnston. A serial killer novel set in an ill thought out Orwellian future. Another of those books set in a hypothesised future written by someone who don't like (or understand) SF. The author even disclaims any SFness on his webpage, "the novels are not sci-fi" he says. Which raises the question why bother coming up with a (not very) complex society different from our own in which to set the story? Sorry, kiddo, you do that and you've stuck a bloody big SF label on yourself no matter how hard you deny it's there and, unfortunately for you, it's going to get measured, judged, whatever by the rules of that particular genre. As a crime novel, I've read worse, as an SF novel, it's shit.
  2. Adam, One Afternoon - Italio Calvino.
  3. Wetworld - Mark Michalowski. A dire Dr Who novel only because daughter number one had just read it and I wanted to see what she what she was enjoying - she's young.
  4. I am Legend - Richard Matheson. First time I had ever read it. Another Must read classic of the genre ticked off. Not bad.
  5. The Underground Man - Ross MacDonald (a Lew Archer Mystery). Dreadfully dull. I will not be going back for more.
  6. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas - Hunter S Thompson. Many years since I read this. I had forgotten how funny it was.
  7. Michael Tolliver Lives - Armistead Maupin. Many years since I read the Tales in the City books (end to end, in one go) and this was a wistfully sad little coda.
  8. Foundation - Isaac Asimov. Another of those Great Novels of SF which, when you actually look at them objectively don't look that good all these years later. In this one we get to see the fall and rise of Galactic Empires via the medium of people in offices describing the political situation to each other in one to one meetings.
  9. Bad Science - Ben Goldacre. One of those books which I am going to lend to people and loose.


  1. The Eye in the Pyramid - Robert Shea and Anton Wilson. The first of The Illuminatus! Trilogy. Not as weirdly compelling as when I read it back in the early 80s. But I was stoned half the time back then.
  2. The Survivalist No. 6: The Savage Horde - Jerry Ahern. Jesus, Mary and all the Saints! This has to be THE single most fuckingly awful book I have ever read. 59 chapters spread over 208 pages (that's 3.5 pages per chapter - though some are actually less than a page long) of porny gun-wanking in which our 'hero', John Thomas Rourke, shoots people. Lots of people. He must kill at least hundred people in this book. He doesn't ask many questions before shooting them either, but it's all right really, this is Post Apoc America and the people he kills with relentless and boring frequency are all 'brigands' or 'wildmen', hairy ill-shaven (and therefore amoral) targets for clean shaven and God fearing him to gun down page after page after page after page.
    “He already had the target-a man about six-foot four, unshaven, his black leather jacket mud-stained, a riot shotgun in his hands, the pump tromboning* as the twelve-gauge, roughly .70 caliber muzzle swung on line.”
    To break the monotony reading about John Thomas shooting people in the head page after page we are often treated to fetishistic descriptions of guns being reloaded; the hero's weaponry: a pair of chromed Detonics Combat Master .45 pistols in Alessi shoulder holsters, Colt Python and Colt Lawman revolvers, an A.G. Russell Sting 1A knife, and a shoulder sling with a CAR-15 assault rifle; and, occasionally, a parallel story in which John Thomas' wife shoots hairy amoral, would be rapists in the head with either an M-16 assault rifle or .45 automatic - even their 8 year old son gets in the act and shoots the occasional hairy ill-shaven biker in the head - though he has to make do with an antique lever action .30-30 Winchester rifle. There are twenty-nine books in the series. Four books after this one (according to Wikipedia) the united Rourke family get themselves cryonically frozen and wake up 500 years later - by which time the human race will have presumably bred enough targets for them to bother getting up again.
    *'Tromboning' is, apparently, a genuine shooting term and nothing to do with the male gay sexual act of the same name.
  3. The Disaster Zone - J G Ballard.
  4. Bonk: the Curious Coupling of Science and Sex - Mary Roach. Mildly entertaining, but sometimes irritatingly smug, book about the science of sex. Very reassuring too, every time I read about another interestingly horrible sexual dysfunction it was like ticking off another 'No' box in some extensive medical check-list in my head. I came out the other end of the book reassured by my (relative) sexual non weirdness, but above all glad I don't spend my days doing any of this research for a living - or even masturbating pigs to orgasm to increase their fertility, as employees on Danish farms are encouraged to do (there is an illustration showing how to do this). Not one to read anywhere near kids who are likely to over your shoulder and ask, "What's that man doing?"

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Star Trek vs Doctor Who

Come back!this isn't one of those nerdy 'Could the TARDIS beat the Enterprise in a fistfight?' bits of fanfic. (Apart from anything else the answer too is bloody obvious to even bother asking the question.) No, this is a moment of blinding revelation about the nature of Life, the Universe and episodic television. (Apart from the Life and Universe bits.)

Last night, via the medium of the BBC iPlayer, Holly and I finally got to watch Let's Kill Hitler, the first episode of the new series of Doctor Who. I love watching Dr Who with Holly. It's one of 'Our Things', a shared private bit of intergenerational fun. I loved Doctor Who as a kid and it's nice to be sharing the show with my children.

Halfway through last night's episode I remembered something that used to puzzle me. Not about Doctor Who but about Star Trek.

Star Trek first aired in 1966, three years after Doctor Who first hit the screen, and in its later revivals featured a strong theme of father/son relationships: Worf and Alexander, Pickard and Crusher Jr.* (and others eg), Benjamin and Jake Cisco, Data and his creator, and so on. ( In this one of the endless number of novels based on the series, even Spock discovers he has a son!)**. As I said, this strange emphasis used to puzzle me until I realized (long before I started doing the same thing with my own children) that Star Trek was one of the few shows that would be watched across the generations: by those who remembered the originals, and their children coming to it for the first time. (I guess that's why they called the first revival of the show Star Trek: The New Generation - I can be so slow on the uptake sometimes.) To capitalize on this Unique Selling Point the producers presented their loyal viewers with endless variations on the problems of male parent / child bonding. which usually ended with manly pats on the back and sometimes a hug. "I love you, son." " I love you too, dad." And at home on the sofa, father and son couch potatoes too would put aside their differences and America would be just that little bit better.

Last night I spotted that the BBC had realised they too had the same kind of cross generational demographic appeal and their show too was being watched by men and their kids. I say men because I don't remember girls being that interested in Doctor Who when I was kid. It may have changed with later reincarnations but in my day girls were far from interested. I doubt the women they grew into would be nostalgic for the real stuff. (Tom Baker is da man!)

The BBC's solution to the Star Trek problem (how do you keep grown males watching what is essentially a kids' show) is markedly different from Paramount's homely moral philosophy and re-enforcing of family values.

The BBC has gone for tits.

They've cast some serious crumpet as companions recently (okay, well maybe not Catherine Tate) and, most recently, cast the seriously crumpetty crumpet Karen Gillan as most recent female companion crumpet Amy Pond - and then dressed her up in male fetish fantasy button-pushing costumes like this:

WPC Amy Pond

and this:

Schoolgirl Amy Pond

and, most disturbingly***, this:

Japanese Sex Robot Amy Pond
(A bit of context here: this is a shape-shifting robot disguised as Amy)

(In next week's episode, Amy Pond disguises herself as a nun, and licks one of those really big Baby Doll lollipops - hereinafter known as 'lolitapops', and blows coy kisses at the screen.)

The Beeb has also called in the big guns by casting Alex Kingston as recurring character River Song. Now Alex Kington is undeniably:
  • A. A good actress and
  • B. Fwaaaaaaar!
...even without the director pointing the camera down the front of her blouse at every opportunity. Like this moment just after the moment Matt Smith has helpfully pulled open her jacket so we can all get a good look at her cleavage.

Thanks Matt. A truly inspired bit of upstaging there; I'm sure there was dialogue going on in this shot but I didn't notice any of it.

So, in short, Tits, the BBC's answer to keeping dads amused. Works for me.

Somewhere, as I'm typing this, the BBC is receiving an email pointing out that the two machine guns used by River Song to force a whole room of Nazi officials and their female companions to strip down to their underwear (did I mention this was a kids show?) were in fact 1943 issue Schmitt and Wesson .22 calibre semi-automatic breach loaders as the magazine was clearly of the semi-locking design patented by Otto Wangster in 1942 and thus it would be impossible for them to be in use in 1938 when this story was set.

Having made that up I suddenly feel an awful lot better about being fascinated by Alex Kingston's knockers for half an hour.

More next week. I hope.


* I know Pickard isn't Crusher Jr.s real son (or did I miss that episode?) but the relationship is similar.

** The Doctor, it must be noted (Must it? Yes. Okay then... ) ended up having a daughter.

*** I can't make my mind up whether the disturbing bit is that they did it, or that I just thought they did.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

It Looks Like People's Bums in an Airtight Container!

It's August here in the Highlands of Scotland. The bees are buzzing round the honeysuckle. Meadowsweet, orchids, saxifrages and all sorts of other flowers I don't know the names of are blooming in profusion. Blackberries are starting to ripen, a few black ones dotted in among all the reddening clusters. The heather is yet to bloom. The roads are full of bewildered tourists from all corners of the world, driving with interesting and life threatening inventiveness in all sorts of directions. And the B&B owners have been hanging out their No Vacancies signs for weeks now. It is, in short, Late Summer - and the Cancer Research charity shop in Fort William has just put this year's Christmas cards on display.

The world has, finally, gone fucking mad hasn't it?

Things like that are why I hide in the house and watch shit like this. That and the midges.

July's eyeball abuse list:
  1. Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004) - Friday Night Pizza with the Kids Film - which I enjoyed a hell of a lot more than I thought I was going to. I have a natural aversion to Jim Carey but thought he did a terrific job as the evil Count Olaf.

  2. Breath (2007) - a film that is, according to a quote from Variety on the back cover,

    "Quirky ... Marbled with weirdly comic and tender moments"
    and which caused me to formulate a new rule of films: 'Inside every slow, quirky Art House film, no matter how marbled with anything it may be, there is a semi-decent short screaming to get out'. Christ, I was bored. Even at a meagre 84 minutes it felt like a piece that was stretched out far too long. I managed to stay awake until the end credits, in the vague hope of some great redeeming moment which didn't arrive, and then promptly fell asleep for two hours - during which I developed a severe pain in the left-hand side of my neck from sleeping awkwardly.

  3. Dance of the Dead ( 2008 ) - "On the night of the big High-School Prom, the dead rise to eat the living, and the only people who can stop them are the losers who couldn't get dates to the dance." Stupid, overly-violent and (at moments) very funny low budget zombie film. The lead, Jared Kusnitz, was great.

  4. The Last Seven (2010) - Another £1 of 3 not very well spent in PoundWorld. (The other two films I bought at the same time were Bloodrayne 2, and Mega Piranha.) The Last Seven looked to be the most interesting of the the three as it promised to play with one of my fave SF book/movie tropes. The one that starts with one man waking up in a seemingly deserted Earth - The Last Man on Earth, The Quiet Earth, The World, the Flesh and the Devil etc. etc. After taking an age to get started (after what looked suspiciously like TWO nested framing devices, and watching one of the producers of the show doubling as an actor walking around London for ten or so minutes) I began to think I should have gone with Mega Piranha. At least that would have delivered what it promised on the case - oh, though looking at the case again, maybe not; the cover shows a fish eating an aircraft carrier, this from production company The Asylum, the people who couldn't get their alien's masks to stay inside their actor's shirts in their ultra-crappy Princess of Mars knockbuster.

    Ah well.

    Back to The Last Seven. So, seven very variable actors meet up in a deserted London, with variably from shot to shot wet/dry streets, and say "What the fuck is happening?" to each other a lot. None of them remembers a thing about who they are or what they are doing there. They start to have flashbacks which seem to interlink. The flashbacks (which get very repetitive and are not as oblique a piece of storytelling as the film makers seem to think) have something to do with an SAS op gone wrong, a cover-up and someone nailing their own hands to a table. There's also a mysterious black clad figure with bad teeth, a blindfold and lots of blood running down his face popping up and popping out the survivor's eyes with his thumbs from time to time. By the time the end of the film heaves itself into view and the remaining characters finally realize they are all dead (or nearly so) and have been since the start of the film, the audience is having a collective M. Night Shyamalan moment and saying 'Is that it? Is that why I have sat here for the last 90 minutes? They're all fucking dead?' Yep, that was it. What a crashing disappointment. Mind you, my 'They are all dead' detectors are pretty well developed. I have never seen an episode of Lost and I knew the characters in that were dead after the third episode just from what the people I knew who did watch it told me about it.

    The only thing that kept me there till the end was one of the actresses, Daisy Head, in her first feature film, wiping the screen with everyone else. The girl has got something.

  5. Bolt ( 2008 ) - I was underwhelmed. The kids were entertained but not enthusiastic.

  6. Mega Piranha (2010) - another straight to SyFy channel and pound-shop DVD pile piece of shit from The Asylum. 'Starring 80s Pop Sensation' Tiffany. (Who?) Mega Piranha has added a new person to my 'People I Want to Nail to a Wall Slowly' list. It's this guy:

    Bill Parker

    The 'editor' of the show, who, when presented with an Avid, seems to have randomly hit every available button in as short a time as possible, and added big Whoooosh! noises over every other cut in case we didn't notice how fucking cool his cutting was. Real ADHD editing. Leave nothing on the screen for more than 3 seconds, speed it, up slow it down, flip it, flop it, desaturate, 'hell, it's been over two minutes since we used that shot; we'll use it again, I wonder what this button does? Cool! cut paste - Y'know, I'm bored, why don't we let cat play with the keyboard for a bit? Hey! that's kind cool...'

    Amid all this hyperactive bludgeoning - there, I suspect, only to disguise the utterly shit script - he manages to do perfectly stupid edits like this:


    The hero and two assistant heroes are on the run.

    Come on let's move out... You too, Gordon...

    They exit screen right

    CUT TO:


    Enter Hero screen left.

    Wait here.

    Actually, written down, it doesn't look that bad but on screen it looks terrible, like the characters have just taken only paces forwards and then stopped. I find it hard to believe they didn't have a single shot they could have cut away to to give a least a moment's impression of time passing. Not a single helicopter shot of jungles? reused CGI shot of cardboard piranhas? no shots of the bad guys combing the jungle for them? nothing? Nothing to rescue their hero from looking like an even bigger dick than he already looks? I don't believe it. Incredibly incompetent editing. And this was before we get to the content which included giant Piranhas eating nuclear submarines and ventriloquist SCUBA divers.

    This wasn't a film. It was a product.

    Actually my hat's off to one member of the crew: the composer who - if he is to be believed from his interview on the 'Making of' extra - only had 48 hours to score and record the soundtrack for the whole movie. He did an okay job.

  7. BloodRayne 2: Deliverance (2007) - a straight to DVD Vampire western in which an evil vampire, Billy the Kid, and his posse of vampire cowboys take hostage the children of the small town of Deliverance. Cheesy, wobbly, loathed by many - just go read the bile heaped upon it IMDb reviews - and lurching from one over-cooked cliché to another without stopping; I rather enjoyed it. 90 minutes of stupid fun.

  8. Return of the Killer Tomatoes ( 1988 ) - Rewatch of a joyously stupid film that just makes me laugh. I make no apologies.

  9. The Invasion (2007) - the fourth(!) adaptation of Jack Finney's 1955 novel The Body Snatchers. The first one is a masterpiece of cold war paranoia, the second is a pretty damn good movie about cults and the alienation of modern cities (and it has that great downbeat ending with Donald Sutherland doing 'The Point'), the third I haven't seen but is highly regarded by some, and then there's this. Which is about Nicole Kidman getting 17 million dollars to appear in a movie. The first two adaptation ditch the novels pretty crappy WTF? cop out ending (the invading pods get fed up and float back off into space) and are better for it, the third (from what I've read) has an unsettlingly ambiguous "where're you going to run to?" ending, and this one has the combined scientists of the world pulling a vaccine out of their collective arses (in the nick of time) and crop spraying the world back to unhappiness once again, and you know what? It's shit.

  10. Voyage of the Rock Aliens - a 1984 'Rock Science Fiction Musical starring Pia (Santa Claus Conquers the Martians) Zadora which made The Apple and Earth Girls are Easy look like masterpieces in comparison. If I tell you the best 'joke' in the whole film is that the high school to which the 30 year old Pia and her 25 year old boyfriend, Craig Sheffer, go is called 'Heidi' - Heidi High. Geddit? Eh? Geddit? - you'll have some idea about just how fucking dreadful this film was. I mean really fucking dreadful. I was on such a high after watching it. Hysteria. I should demand medals for watching this stuff.

    Somehow the producers managed to convince 90 year old, four times nominated, one time Oscar winner Ruth Gordon to appear in it as the local sheriff. Baffling.What you may probably find more baffling is the fact that I went on my hands and knees to find this DVD and then had to convince the guy behind the till to sell it to me. Here's the scene: I'm in Poundland in Dundee raking through the not very inspiring piles of DVDs (many of them reduced to 50p - that uninteresting) when I noticed that down behind the shelves was a pile of DVDs and CDs that had fallen through the gaps in the shelving and were lying in an unsorted heap on the floor, out of sight of the passing punters. I love unsorted heaps ; can't resist them. You never know what you'll find in an unsorted heap. (Except you do by now). So I was instantly on my knees shoving aside piles of Fly Fishing Expert 23: How to Catch Bigger Perch with Angus McSomeone and pulling out long lost treasures - like lots of other Fly Fishing Expert DVDs and - Voyage of the Rock Aliens. Bingo! When I got to the till the guy behind the counter scanned my DVDs. Voyage of the Rock Aliens made the till make a funny noise. Instead of going 'beep!' as it had done with all the other discs, it went 'BeepityBeepety'... The till man looked at his till.

    Till Man:
    Oh. This item has been withdrawn.


    Till Man:

    Why has it been withdrawn?

    Till Man:
    No idea. Maybe it's been reported
    as faulty or something.

    I'll take the risk.

    Till Man:

    I'll take the risk. If it doesn't work
    I promise not to bring it back.

    Till Man:


    Like I said. Medals.

  11. Mutant (1984) - over-long (or very wrongly paced) low budget small town zombie pollution crap.

  12. The House on Sorority Row (1983) - Meh.

Missing CD? Contact vendor

Free CD
Please take care
in removing from cover.

Copyright (c) 2004-2007 by me, Liam Baldwin. That's real copyright, not any 'creative commons' internet hippy type thing.

(this copyright notice stolen from

eXTReMe Tracker