Saturday, February 26, 2011

Not a bad haul for £15

I got a day off today. Merriol has been urging me to do this for weeks but I finally got round to doing it today. About 50 miles away from us over on the other side of Scotland there is a barn-like shed full of antiques / junk / treasure that is only open on Thursdays and Saturdays. Every time we go past (which isn't very often) we stop and have a look and I spend most of my time prising things out of the kids' hands and yelling, "Don't touch! - Anything!".

Along one side of the shed is a vast pile of books. Some are on shelves others are in piles on the floor. Some of the piles have fallen over. There are occasionally pieces of furniture stacked on top of them. Every time I've been to the shed I've had to drag myself away vowing one day to come back alone and sort through the pile uninterrupted from one end to another and not stop till I finished.

I did it today. Drove over in the morning, spent two or three hours moving several thousand books a few inches to the left and filling up a box with battered old Penguins and lurid SF novels - and what looks suspiciously like a first edition of Elizabeth David's Italian Food. It has lost its dust-wrapper and is a little battered but no matter; it's MINE!


Friday, February 25, 2011

Okay, catchup time. As threatened promised over the last couple of days, it's every crappy movie I watched for the last couple of months time:

December 2010

  • Confidential Report (aka Mr Arkadin) - for the umpteenth time. A scratchy mess of a film that just captivates me every time. Possibly my favourite Orson Welles film - until the next time I watch The Lady From Shanghai.

  • I Eat Your Skin aka Zombie Bloodbath (1964) - Two misleading titles, though people did eat, there were people with skin in the movie, and there were zombies. But it was total pants. It was total pants at the time it was made and remained on the shelf for six years before sneaking out as the support act in a drive in double bill.

    The basic story concerns a playboy writer who travels with his agent, and a couple of other more disposable characters, to 'Voodoo Island' where he uncovers a fiendish plot by the boss white man. The boss white man is blackmailing the local maverick misguided scientist with the beautiful daughter (standard fixtures on small Caribbean islands at the time) into turning the 'natives' into indestructible zombies with which he can take over the world. The zombification process involves taking snake venom (via stock footage) and putting it in a nuclear microwave with a big flashing DANGER FORESHADOWING! sign on it, then injecting it into hapless natives. Mwahahaha! To help him in his scheme White Boss Bloke dresses up as a voodoo-doo priest, Papa Whatever, and goes around chopping off women's heads at orgiastic ceremonies. When he decides to chop off the blonde (and somewhat humpable) scientist's beautiful daughter's head, things go a bit wrong for him.

    This movie probably does have one claim to fame, it boasts what may well be the the world's first on-screen zombie suicide bomber. A zombie carrying a box of explosives, helpfully marked 'Explosives', walks into the spinning propeller of the heroes' plane. Kaboom!

    A couple of shots later, as our heroes (they weren't actually in the plane at the time) run away from the wreckage, and other unexploded zombies, we get a wonderful panning shot that lets us see, along the beach, the shadows of the entire film crew cast by the setting sun.

    In the end you'll be glad to know the whole island* is blown up when the scientist deliberately overloads the nuclear microwave with the big flashing DANGER FORESHADOWING sign on it.

    Avoid at all costs; I have made it sound far more fun than it actually is.

    *or at least, a very small model of it.

  • Short Circuit - at last we break the musical loop on Pizza and Movie night! Not as good as I remember but the kids enjoyed it.

  • The Sadist (1963) - Pretty damn terrific and influential low budget shocker which still works.

  • The Master of Disguise (2003) - Bought for £1 in Morrison's. I paid about 99p too much. The case will come in use.

  • Black Narcissus (1947) - God Damn! I love this film. 100 minutes of the most beautiful erotically sensual celluloid art and craftsmanship.

  • There, that was relatively painless wasn't it?

    January 2011
  • Plughead Rewired: Circuitry Man II (1994) - Rewatch. Not as weirdly odd as I remember. Maybe because I have seen the original since I first saw it.

  • Darkdrive (1996) - Rewatch. A possible exception to my 'ALL sf movies set in futuristic gaols are automatically pants' rule. Don't get me wrong, Darkdrive is definitely pants but, even on a second viewing, gets so genuinely confusingly weird by the end of it that I forgive it its sins of the first half.

  • War Between the Planets (1966) Rewatch - one of the classic 'Gamma 1' series of Italian SF movies made in the mid-60s, and maybe the weakest of the four. In this episode Earth is threatened with destruction by unknown forces which release a tidal wave of stock footage from 'all four corners of the globe' (sic). After about an hour of on-screen helplessness in which nothing much happens apart from technicians at consoles bark chunks of technobabble to one another while people in authority listen to them and say things like "This is fantastic! Why wasn't I informed before?", our hero gets it into his head to load an anti-matter bomb into a space ship and set off for somewhere not very well defined for some reason not made very clear to the audience. For a variety of equally obscure motives, almost everyone else in the cast with speaking parts follow him. They find a red glowing farting asteroid and decide to blow it up. After endlessly wandering around its glowing interior and strungling* with viciously inert rubber tentacles (see 35 second mark in the trailer for a good example), they finally succeed. The music was kind of groovy and the endless wandering around the same small alien set got hypnotically dreamlike towards the end but it wasn't really worth the effort to get there.

  • Journey to the Seventh Planet (1962) - Rewatch (I'm obviously in the mood to revisit some of the oddities I've discovered over the last couple of years.) A strange, strange little movie which was as oddly odd as I remember. (Helped no doubt by my downloaded copy being a few frames out of synch which had the effect of making everyone sound like they had dubbed themselves appearing in a foreign language movie.)

  • Alien Intruder (1993) - Straight to video shit from a first time director who stretched five minutes worth of story (an alien virus in the shape of Tracy Scoggins infects a spaceship crew's individual virtual reality sleep pods and makes them kill each other) out to two hours. Two hours in which we are expected to buy the phenomenal idea that people will fight and kill to sleep with Tracy Scoggins! Two hours in which we get to watch Maxwell Caulfield wishing he was back making quality products like Grease 2. (If you drew a straight line on Caulfield's graph of crappy shame between the points marking Grease 2 and the rural soap Emmerdale, where he now works, this movie would be well below it.) We also get to watch Billy Dee Williams playing some weird game in which he tries to put the stress on the wrong word in every sentence without the director noticing; I suspect he was trying to keep himself awake. And we also get to watch the future security chief of Babylon 5 snog his commanding officer. (Jeff Conaway and Tracy Scoggins - but only total geek fanboys would have: a.noticed, b.thought it noteworthy, c.found it pervily arousing. Luckily I score only 2 out of the 3, so there is still hope for me.) All in all another 75p well spent at the charity shop. Future prisons featured heavily in this one too. And why is it that any 'virtual reality' of the 80s and 90s will always have a bad Casablanca homage sequence in them?

    La Scoggins

  • Shepherd (1999) - More post-apocalyptic nonsense (characters wearing fingerless gloves? Check!). Somewhere in Roger Corman's book How I made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime I seem to recall that he gave one sure-fire simple way of getting 300% out of any location involved in a car chase (or maybe it was mentioned in the Dov Simens' 2-Day Film School™ I once attended - I got in for free) either way the advice given was this: Put the camera down, have the cars drive past. Put an oil drum in the foreground and have the cars drive past the other way. While they're turning around for a final pass, set fire to the oil drum. Three set-ups without moving the camera. Advice the director of this turd took to heart. There isn't an exterior without at least one burning oil drum somewhere in the shot. Great attempts were made to give this movie a cultish vibe, great dollops of knowing 'weirdness' are thrown at the screen: David Carradine as a drunken ventriloquist whose dummy tries to strangle our hero, an unnamed character who is totally extraneous to the plot and does nothing more than vaguely comment on the action and ask unseen punters to place bets on what happens next, an old lady who spontaneously combusts in a restaurant for no apparent (and unexplained) reason - but none of it sticks. It's all too self-knowing and clumsy. It becomes irritating. What you end up with is a another poverty-row 'Sci-Fi' actioner with added, not very good, 'weird' bits climaxing (as usual) in a final showdown battle. This time the battle is between rival religious cultist leaders who can summons up a grand total of three stuntmen each. No amount of rapid-fire editing or well placed oil drums with gas burners in them could rescue it. C Thomas Howell hid behind a beard and got to pretend to bump uglies with four women - tough job but I suppose someone has to do it.

  • Cyborg 3: The Creation (1995) - Even I found this one hard going. But I do think I've found the nadir of Malcolm McDowell's career. I thought Moon 44 was the bottom of the curve till I saw Beings (aka The Fairy King or Ar) but this.... Sticking firmly to the Rule of Part 3s (they're shit!) this is the second sequel to a Claude Van Dammit! movie (Part 2 starred Angelina Jolie) and is the usual post-apocolyptic desert wasteland driving shooting and explosions crap. Mr McD, so prominently displayed of the box front, "Starring Malcom McDowell", has about four lines that contribute nothing to the plot - or any possible 'character development' that might have been going on. (I didn't see any.) At first I thought his scenes were footage left over from a previous 'Cyborg' movie - but he wasn't in either of them so that can't have been it. Maybe he was just driving past, saw the film crew, and said, "Give us a fiver and I'll be in your movie!". His scenes cannot have taken more than a couple of hours to shoot.

  • Armageddon (1997 aka Redline, Deathline) - One of those films in which an American Armed Only With a Handgun: A. out-shoots armies of hired goons out to kill him B. gets the girl. The film is set in slightly futuristic Moscow, was shot in Hungary and the American Armed Only With a Handgun is Dutchman Rutger Hauer. The endless army of goons out to kill him include topless women boxers and nude female assassins - and street bums. In one sequence our hero is on the run, his name and picture are flashed up on vast outdoor screens in a 'Moscow's Most Wanted' TV show (which re-enacted his 'crimes' as the Odessa Steps massacre from In Battleship Potemkin). There is a cash reward. A bunch of vodka-soaked down-and-outs make the connection. One points at our fugitive hero. Hey! He's the guy! There! Stop him! Suddenly, from nowhere, they all produce AK47s and start blasting away! It's almost a good joke but nothing is made of it and it falls flat on its arse; just turns into another improbable, overlong 'action' sequence - which makes me wonder if it was a joke at all. I hope it was because it was just about the only original idea in the movie. Mind you, the locations were interesting to look at and naked women are always welcome on my TV, even when attacking Rutger Hauer wearing boxing gloves, but the script was a confusing mess; I had no idea what was going on half the time and cared less for most. The music was a mess too, but an eclectic interesting mixture of a mess that ranged from Hardcore Techno to some serious Hardcore Cheesy Listening via Jewish folk music.

  • Caché (2005 aka Hidden) - A grown up film for a change. In which I didn't mind that I didn't know what was going on half the time because I wanted to know! It's nearly two hours long has lots of long static shots in which nothing much happens but I was gripped. I found myself scouring the screen, examining every passing face for a clue. I thought Juliette Binoche did a brilliant job. I will admit to feeling let down by the ultimate ambiguity of it all. Too much Hollywood. I've been conditioned to expect endings.

  • Escape from L.A. (1996) - Aha! Another outbreak of Burning Drumitis. Everywhere in PostApoc L.A. - burning oil drums. Even when our hero (Kurt Russel) and sidekick descend through a manhole into the sewers - burning oil drums. About half way through I started to recognise individual drums. There was one with two large holes near the top that kept turning up all over the place. The story was the routine pants and Steve Buscemi stole the show as usual.

  • Tinker Bell (2008 ) - Straight to DVD Disney movie which wasn't as indescribably awful as I was expecting. Daughter Number Two wanted Daughter Number One to see it and chose it as Friday Night Pizza Movie. A couple of passable, and well timed, jokes made me almost laugh and it was mercifully short on songs; there's only one which is delivered in that hideous, semi-operatic, overly precise diction style that Disney Princesses love so much. Half way though the show I found myself thinking that for a cartoon character Tinker Bell didn't half have nice legs. That was a weird moment.

  • Night of the Blood Beast ( 1958 ) - a formula Roger Corman alien-invasion low budget quickie. Towards the end - and the inevitable showdown in Bronson Canyon - I spent a lot of time trying to remember all the movies I had seen shot in that location. IMDb lists 261. A lot of them are TV episodes but have seen a vast number of the crap SF films shot there in the 50s and 60s: Teenagers From Outer Space, Robot Monster, Attack of the Crab Monsters, Earth vs. the Spider, and so on - oh! here's one I haven't seen: Beach Babes 2: Cave Girl Island - shot in 1988. Nice to know the tradition is alive. Off to Blockbusters to rent that one and see what the place looks like in colour.

  • Deathstalker and the Warriors from Hell (1988 aka Deathstalker III) - Mexican shot sword and sorcery bollocks that left me as overwhelmed with indifference as the last time I watched it three years ago. In fact, so overwhelmed was I the last time, that I had completely forgotten I'd seen it until about halfway through - by then it was too late; rigor mortis had set in.

  • The Lady From Shanghai (1947) - I can never decide whether I think The Lady from Shanghai is my favourite of Welles' films or if it's Mr Arkadin. It's usually the one I have watched most recently.

  • The Sword in the Stone (1963) - Friday Night Pizza and Family Movie Fest. I've been avoiding watching The Sword in the Stone for most of my life for a couple of reasons: a. The book was a childhood favourite and even from an early age I knew that watching film versions of favourite books was a sure ticket to disappointment. b. It was made by Disney who, more than most, fucked up perfectly great books to make really mediocre films - especially during the 60s. I don't like Disney at the best of times but their animation in the 60s was just dreadful: scrappy, cheap, and obsessed with animating endless amounts of water cascading around the place. Here the story, which was not complicated to start with, has been simplified to the point of idiocy and made so bland it was almost unrecognisable. I read the book to my girls recently at bedtimes; they laughed all the way through the film but spent the next twenty minutes telling me the bits that had been left out from the book.

  • The Search for One-Eye Jimmy (1994) - a, not as funny as I remember it, indie comedy with a great cast: John Turturro, Samuel L. Jackson, Steve Buscemi, Sam Rockwell, Jennifer Beals, and New York based indie movie staple Anne Meara (I think it's actually illegal to shoot a movie in New York without her in the cast). There's not much of a plot and even less of a script.

  • Bunny and the Bull (2009) - I wanted to like this so much and I'm really struggling to understand why I didn't. Bunny and the Bull is an overly quirky Film Council (RIP) part-funded feature début from the director of the overly quirky TV series The Mighty Boosh. Benny and the Bull has "From the Director of the Mighty Boosh" writ large on the box, the stars of 'the Boosh', Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt, appear in the film Everything screams "Compare this to The Mighty Boosh!". So I feel no guilt about doing just that. Now I like The Mighty Boosh. I like it a lot. Noel Fielding and the other one are direct comic descendants of the absurdist surrealism of the great Spike Milligan. The show packed more oddness into one 1/2 hour slot than most programmes achieved in a whole series. The show had great writing and a joyous combination of expensive set design and a scrappy make-do and cobble it together feel (in one episode the villain was an unwound Betmax cassette played by an actor festooned in unwound videotape).

    The jokes and situations came at you thick and fast in the show. The film is a lot slicker, and the characters aren't played for laughs as much, but it just didn't deliver for me. The design and lighting are too good, when the action segues into our characters moving in an animated, modelled, or drawn - almost cartoon-like, landscape (which happens a lot) it all looks too well done. The only way I can think to explain it is when you see a drawing in a film or in an advert that is supposedly done by a child but is so obviously done by an adult trying to draw like a child. It somehow becomes incredibly phoney. I'm not explaining this very well am I? I do know that I thought it was very long. I was surprised to find it was only 97 mins long; I thought I had been watching it for at least 2 hours. The music was good.

  • Guys and Dolls (1955) - I have a soft spot for Guys and Dolls and pulled rank at the Family Friday Night Pizza and Movie Ritual by making my kids watch it. Only Holly stayed its 150 mins course but then she has an almost insatiable appetite for Hollywood musicals ("even when there is kissing in them"). It was the first time I'd seen it where it hadn't been panned and scanned and was in heaven seeing all sorts of details I'd never seen before. One of the things I enjoy so much about this film is watching Brando work. I don't know anything about the shooting but he looks like he's having such fun it's infectious.

  • The Adventures of Prescilla Queen of the Desert (1994) - Merriol's favourite film and as a 40th birthday surprise friends hired the local community cinema and we had an afternoon showing with everyone glammed up with glitter and false eyelashes. The best way to watch a film.

  • Send for Paul Temple (1946) - Workmanlike, very dated, British 'thriller' in which, true to form, expiring villains gasped out cryptic clues with their dying breaths (though how the landlord of the pub found hanged with his hands tied behind his back managed to write 'peng' in the dust on an overturned stool is never explained). The film showed its radio origins by having the characters constantly repeating to each other the few obvious clues they have gathered so far; this would have been useful, if not essential, in an episodic radio serial where listeners had to be bought up to date with the story, but was tedious in a 83 minute film.

  • The Astro-Zombies ( 1968 ) - I think this is the third or fourth time I've watched this very very bad film. I find it fascinating. It's ponderously slow, with every shot held to its maximum length in an attempt to stretch it out to a decent running time, but it does have a secret weapon: John Carradine. I have no idea why, but I could watch that man talk garbage on screen for hours. Here he's playing his usual misguided scientist who this time has managed to lose his prototype 'astro-zombie', a reanimated human cadaver with an artificial heart. The idea is that by thought transference the Astro-zombie would be able to take the world's greatest scientists into space without putting them in any danger. Unfortunately Dr. Carradine had only the brain of a 'psychopathic murderer' knocking about when the mark one was assembled - fill in the blanks.... Several grisly murders later, in the inevitable basement laboratory, Dr. Carradine and his hunchbacked mute assistant Franchot stand before a bank of electronic stuff with a lot of lights and buttons that make 'boopily boopily' noises when you push them..

    "Now Franchot, the time has come to test our new brain. We must feed this memory circuit through the emotional quotient rectifier to determine if there is any residual impurity....

    (Seventeen or so switches switched, buttons pushed, and rheostats twiddled later...)

    "I've introduced into the console the electrolitic limiters which should disallow interference with the programmed patterns function within the body mechanism. Actuate the heart circuit. Excellent! Before we can recall our first creation, we must attempt to override his emotional index by stepping up the voltage and transmission frequency...

    (More buttons, switches and rheostats are expertly fondled and suddenly screen is full of red flashing lights! The buttons, switches and rheostats are expertly, but rapidly, fondled in reverse order till they stop.)

    "It's obvious the frequency and voltage boost will not effect an override... Franchot, remove number nine from the thermal freeze casket and prepare him for brain transfer and total astro-mobilisation....

    It's like music, like some free-form jazz science fiction scat singing. I wonder if he made it up as he went along, improvising around a few key points, or if someone actually wrote those lines and he learned them? I like to think the man is winging it. The Ella Fitzgerald of crap SF films.

  • *Strungle v. To simulate the act of strangulation by clutching the stranglator to your own throat, while pretending to struggle to be free. An act commonly seen performed in any cheap movie containing a giant octopus. A word I coined while watching Gog a couple of years ago.

    Thursday, February 24, 2011

    Ignore yesterday's threat of bad movie stodge listing. You're off the hook for the day. On Wednesday Merriol and I went shopping in the Fort and raking through the back room of one of the charity shops (I'm such a regular I get privileges) I hit bigbox VHS paydirt. A whole pile of cruddy films in crappy 1980s bigbox cases. I've spent so much of this evening watching sweaty men in mullets hitting each other with bits torn off vehicles that there's no time left tonight to recap what I watched last month - or even the month before that.

    Death Mullet
    Post-apoc mullet syrup

    Last month, the Film Program on BBC Radio 4 asked their listeners to send in their film diaries for the month. I did. They mentioned my list on the show and linked to it. That was nice.

    I haven't posted my usual 'every crappy film that I have watched' for some two months now.

    You may want to miss the next couple of days of this blog...

    Wednesday, February 23, 2011

    Fark me!

    My obsession with the peculiarities of Lidl's graphic design team continues:

    Ever since the days of clockwork computers, every desktop publishing package / graphics tool worth its salt has had the facility to rotate things. If you want two pieces of identical lettering going in opposite directions on different sides of something - like a wrapper for a bar of chocolate for instance - you would have thought that it would be simplicity itself to type the in text, copy it, paste it, rotate the copy, then move the two bits of text to where you want them.

    Lidl's graphikers seem to have to type it all out every time. Maybe they had been naughty and ate the chocolate after the photoshoot instead of returning it to the shelves for sale and this was a punishment.

    Sadly this typo has been fixed recently - this flattened packet has been in my scanner for weeks waiting for me to get round to doing this.

    Monday, February 21, 2011

    My sense of humour sems to be coming back after its long winter's nap. Actually it didn't so much have a nap this year as pack its bags and leave, slamming the door on the way out and threatening never to return. I quite often have a midwinter dip. Last year I didn't - partially I suspect because the weather last winter was so mild: lots of light, very little rain. This year however, just to make up for it, the weather has been shitty cold, wet, and dark and the midwinter blues hit me really hard. So much so that I eventually gave in went to the doctor's, had a long chat and and got prescribed an SSRI. Despite my reservations and after making me feel very peculiar for a couple of weeks, they seem to be doing some good. Everything isn't such a relentless, thankless bloody chore any more. And as I said, my sense of humour seems to be coming back - for a trial period to see if we're still compatible.

    The other day I was sitting in the bathroom reading an article in New Scientist about the possibility of using pulsars as a method of measuring hypothesised gravity waves (as you do) when I came across this diagram which just made me laugh out loud:


    Hurray! I've got my sense of humour back. Or possibly someone else's who is a bit smarter than me.

    Thursday, February 03, 2011

    I am still alive and I will breath life into this blog one day. Soon. Soon it will rise again. My hunchback assistant is scouring the web for spare parts and as soon as I've cobbled them all together and there is a climactic thunderstorm in the offing we'll have this thing up and about and tearing the arms off passing peasants in no time.

    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

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