Sunday, December 28, 2008

Go Make a Cup Of Tea...

(Sorry for the long and boring post about an utterly personal and uninteresting topic. I will add pictures of naked and semi-naked people at a later date to make it less of a chore to read.)

I've been thinking recently (when I get the chance what with my jet-setting life style and all) about just quite why it is I am so addicted to watching bad movies. I have to come to some conclusions - but first, some broad and unsubstantiated generalisations:

Humans are, for the most part, logical beings. We like to make sense of things, join the dots, make patterns. See actions and reactions. Understand cause and effect. We like to know where our next meal is coming from and whether there will be tomato ketchup easily available if it's not very good.

What human beings don't like is chaos. Thrown into a chaotic situation people will immediately start to impose some sort of order on it - or at least organise a committee to delegate someone else to do it for them.

One of the ways people organise the world is to tell stories. Stories are organised. They have a beginning, (or at least the telling of them will) and an end. There's a middle in between which usually makes some sort of sense, connects the two, and tells us something about ourselves and the world around us. Morals aren't always presented but are often inferred. We learn from stories.

There are many reasons why people consume fiction; comfort I would guess is a major reason. It reassures us to see the bad guys defeated, the murderer unmasked, and true love triumph. All's right with the world - The End. And most people seem to stay within a narrow comfort zone by reading genres they are comfortable with. I doubt if I will ever pick up a Mills and Boon or Harlequin romance for example but there are many who read little else.

We know what we like, and we like what we know.

Some people will enjoy the puzzle element of a Whodunnit or thrillers - trying to outguess the storytellers, some will want the cathartic experience of being scared witless by a horror movie, or will want a good laugh, or have a good snivel at the happy ending of some three-handkerchief tearjerker. The point I'm trying to make here is that when we sit down to a piece of fiction (and Isuspect this is especially true of film because of it's immediacy and power) we already know the sort of reactions it is going to evoke in us. We choose the films we watch according to the reactions we want to have, the moods we want feel. There's an expectation that the movie will trigger a desired response in us. If it succeeds in triggering that response we think it's a good film. If it fails, it's a bad one. The only thing that just about everyone agrees on is that no one sits down to be bored in a movie. Boredom is not something people actively seek out.

What I've come to realise is that the thing I often find I want from fiction - is bewilderment. I like being bewildered. For one thing it is such a fugitive feeling. Like Deja Vu it is not something you can easily trigger in yourself. I know that if I want to laugh, all I have to do is watch a Buster Keaton movie, or Yahoo Serious' Young Einstein, or any number of movies I know I find funny. If I want a good cry I'll watch It's a Wonderful Life, or The Dresser, or Cerano De Bergerac. But bewilderment? How do you bewilder yourself?

I'm often bewildered by bad movies.

A good bewilderingly bad movie is like a memorable dream. It will almost make sense from moment to moment - but then suddenly jump illogically in some disconcerting direction which, because it is part of a story, has to be fitted into place with what has gone before. Stories make sense - that's axiomatic (or possibly tautological) so if the storyteller has suddenly shifted the location of his story and made his characters suddenly do seemingly inexplicable things or vanish then we automatically try to fit the pieces together. It's our part of the game. The storyteller gives us the pieces and we fit them together.

When the storyteller is telling a simple story like Little Red Riding Hood the pieces are presented to us in a simple clear and easily comprehended manner. This happened, then that happened, then this happened..
When the story gets more complex, the story telling process gets more complex. In a mystery story the order of events is often revisited several times, open to multiple interpretations from different characters - not all of whom can be trusted to be honest in their versions.
The skill of the story teller is to present the pieces of his story to us in a way that keeps us interested and - no matter how complicated and fancy the way he shuffles and deals them or disguises them with stylistic tricks - he has to play fair. He has to stick to the rules; even if he is inventing them. How many times have you had the feeling you have been cheated when an author suddenly whips out a piece of story from somewhere, bangs it into place and announces the game is over? The Deux Ex Machina ending, the 'He Woke Up And Found It Was All A Dream' ending, or the character who suddenly changes personality for no reason, and renounces evil, embraces good, tra - la - la! Roses and bluebirds! Goodnight. The end.

In a good, bad movie all those things may happen before the opening credits have finished.

Sometimes the story teller is so wrapped up in his own weird fevered imagination, or so thoroughly incompetent, or hampered by technical problems (like not having enough money), that he doesn't communicate his story in a way that lets us follow it. We try to follow it, for a while at least, because we are conditioned to try but sometimes it just isn't possible.

I finally realised what was going on while watching Ed Wood's masterpiece of incoherence Night of the Ghouls (a sequel to his utterly wrong Bride Of The Monster*) The movie opens with Criswell (real-life fake medium and deranged narrator of several of Wood's films) rising from an open coffin and trying to stare into the camera while reading his lines on idiot boards held too far off to one side of the camera:
"I am Criswell - for many years I have told you the unbelievable related the unreal and showed it to be more than fact. Now I tell you a tale of the threshold people - so astounding that some of you may faint - This is a story of those in the twilight time - once human... now monsters... in a world between the living - and the dead. Monsters to be pitied! Monsters to be despised!"
It goes downhill from there very fast. There is a bewildering quality to Wood's films in which logic and all known storytelling techniques evaporate before your very eyes in an orgy of wrongness... I love his films but it was only watching this one for the first time that I realised the truly weird dreamlikeness of them. While the audience is still puzzling over the philosophical implications of things that are more 'real' than facts, Wood shows us a long interior of a police station full of over-acting amateur actors loudly screeching their lines - the upshot of this over-long, weirdly composed static shot is something strange and scary has happened to an old couple. They've seen something horrible.


Then the voice of Criswell returns:
"This how it began. An incident the police were fearful to admit."
Fade to police car, sirens blaring driving right to left along a dusty road. (Assumption in the audiences mind - these are the police we just saw on their way to investigate the 'incident' )

"Your daily newspapers radio and television dares to relate the latest in juvenile delinquency!"
Fade to a wide shot of some teens gently soft-shoe jiving in a coffee shop while someone whacks a demented jazzy drum solo to an entirely different rhythm on the soundtrack.

Cut to: Another shot of the police car driving left to right along what looks like the same road (Assumption in the audiences mind - the police car is going back to where it came from.)

Cut to a montage of four shots: a bunch of youths looking down - one boy jumps down a bank - onto another and hits him - unenthusiastically cheered on by his friends while Criswell intones:
"At Times it seems that juvenile delinquency is the major problem of our law enforcement officers - but, is this the major horror of our times?"
Cut to: another, near identical (tediously long) shot of the police car going left to right as the mad drumming returns on the soundtrack. (Assumption in the audiences mind - these policemen really don't know where they are going, do they?)

Cut to: Montage: a well lit alley boys boys 'fight' on the ground. A girl holds her handbag and shuffles screen right, a look of unconvincing unhappiness on her face.
"Is this violence and terror the small few perpetrate the most horrible terrifying of all crimes our civil servants - must investigate?"
The mad drumming is back again. Cut to: The police car - from right to left time. (Question in the audiences mind - What the hell is going on?)

Cut to: Another, different, car travelling left to right - this shot taken from another vehicle - I'm no expert on American cars of the period, but this is a much older car and looks like stock footage.
"The national Safety Council keeps accurate records on highway fatalities. They can even predict how many deaths will come on a drunken holiday weekend..."
Roadside bushes whip by as the camera is suddenly in the car, looking out. A close up of a spinning wheel (which can't belong to the car we just saw because it has white wall tyres and wheels on the car didn't). The car drives out of control down a steep bushy bank to come to rest,out of shot, behind a dark tree. Medium shot wrecked car, a body peering out of the smashed side window.
"But what records are kept? What information is there?"
Cut to the same damn police car driving right to left along the same damn road. (Enough! Enough! Mr Wood, we don't need to see every take you made of an establishing shot for another movie**!)
"How many of you know the horror - the terror, I will now reveal to you?"
(None, you fucking weirdo, that's why we're watching this crappy movie!)

Cut to an open top car, a necking couple inside, make out music on the radio. Frogs croaking. Cut to a wider shot of same car. AT LAST! Suddenly we are in linear movie storytelling time. The girl gets out of the car, he follows... The relief is almost overwhelming. Two sequential shots that actually make some sort of coherent logical sense! Blessed relief! The story progresses. This is where the movie really starts, folks!

What, the viewers asks himself, the hell HAD all that 'Juvenile delinquency', and road safety stuff got to do with anything? Nothing. It had nothing to do with anything that had previously happened, or would subsequently happen for the rest of the film. As I sat there trying to puzzle it out I realised it was the most genuinely surreal bit of film making I had ever encountered.

Many directors try to make dream-like movies, David Lynch and Fellini are two obvious examples but neither really get there. Their films are great, I love them, but their dreams are too coherent. Too good. They make too much sense. Their movies, lovely and wonderful things that they are, are composed and edited too lyrically. Dreams aren't lyrical. We impose lyricism on dreams afterwards as we think about them (if we remember them at all) and try to make them into stories.

We spend about a third of our lives asleep and a great deal of the time we are asleep we spend dreaming. Dreaming is obviously important to us. There is some reason why humans have to spend so much of their time time believing they are fighting enormous custard creams, or rowing across a sea of spaghetti, or running around their school yard naked from the waist down (or is that just me?). With Ed Wood, and all the other very bad movie makers of the world, we can all have a chance at that kind of experience while wide awake.

It's an opportunity I can never pass up.

*Starring Bela Lugosi in his next to last completed movie. Bride of the Monster contains one of the greatest bits of weird acting of Lugosi's career (and that's saying something). There's a moment towards the start of the film where a hapless victim wakes to find himself strapped to a surgical table, a captive of the evil Dr Varnoff (Bela in white coat and stethoscope) and about to be experimented upon with a atomic powered ray. Hey, what gives!
"Soon," gloats Dr Varnoff clutching one of those huge switches so beloved by mad scientists, "you will be asa bik as a chiant, wid the strength ov twenty men, or -- like all the others, DEAD!" Lugosi throws the lever. Lights flash. The victim convulses against the straps binding him to the table then falls limp. Bela registers horror (or something) and steps forward, dons the stethoscope, listens to the man's heart. Nothing. His shoulders slump. Another failure.... Then. In a truly inspired moment of acting genius (Bela is so in the moment here) he discerns a possible glimmer of hope and... stethoscope still in place - listens to the man's head! .. and then his wrist! ... only then does he finally give up hope.

**Plan Nine from Outer-Space

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

It's 21 minutes past Christmas. I'm sitting at the computer waiting till I go to bed so that I can sneak the girls', stuffed full of goodies from Father Christmas, Christmas stockings, onto their couch on the landing.

The girls, full of Christmas expectations, didn't get to sleep till gone 10 and Merriol and I spent the next two hours wrapping stuff and sorting out the order in which presents from other people would be opened to avoid sulks along the "She got more than me!" line - and coping with Merriol's colour-coded wrapping paper system. Father Christmas has three types of paper this year* one for presents for Daisy, one for presents for Holly and one for presents to share.
Then there's the different coloured papers for presents from us to the girls. I just did what I was told but I did end up having to re wrap at least one thing, shifting it from a Father Christmas present to an us present to keep things balanced.

I'm looking forward to seeing what Holly makes of one her gifts from us. When Tyler was here he bought Holly a chess set. It's a sort of Johnny Appleseed project of Tyler's, he leaves chess sets wherever he goes. Unfortunately Merriol and I known less than nothing about the game so, wrapped up H's pile of goodies, is a book called something like How to Humiliate Your Dad at Chess. If nothing else I might learn how to set the board out without looking at the picture on the box - which in this case was a bit of a mistake because whoever set the pieces up for the studio photoshoot managed to put the bishops on the corners - and even I know that's wrong. I did scan it but have lost it in the guddle in my computer.

It's now 1 am. I think the girls will be finally asleep now....

.... I hope...

Sneak... sneak...

Merry Christmas...

*Now safely stashed in the loft where it will be forgotten till the very instant I put next year's left-over roll on top of it.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Friday, December 19, 2008

After a lot of fannying about - far too much - I have finally finished another Cheesybeat blog entry. Between sneakily sneaking secret things into the house past the kids because of the soonishness of Christmas and doing the washing up I don't seem to have done anything worth reporting at all. So, to fill up the space, here's all the movies I didn't watch this year. All the ones I abandoned, for a variety of reasons - mostly 'cos they're the wrong kind of bad. (I know Phoebe, I know.)

Elektra -
Comic book based flick about 'Back from the dead' female assassin with issues. I gived up after 15 minutes when I realised it wasn't going to stop looking like a car commercial. Terrence Stamp appeared in flashback as the aged martial arts master and looked bored out of his skull, if he couldn't be bothered why should I? Presumably he was getting paid to be there; I wasn't.

I can do no better than quote one of the IMDb reviews of this piece of shit: "a woefully unfunny film, with none of the 'so-bad-it's-entertaining' elements which similar films sometimes provide." Yep, that just about sums it up.

Hamlet -
Ethan Hawke in the title role and a cast worthies totally at sea in a total fuck-up of a movie in which the director spends most of his time trying to point the camera at the BACK of whoever is speaking's head in order to make the lousily-recorded, mumbling and whispering that they are doing totally incomprehensible. Only Liev Schrieber (as Laertes) looked like he had a clue what his character was meant to be saying and then said it with a clarity and conviction that just made everyone else look even more lost. I lasted 30 minutes before hitting the off button.

I love the original. This watered-down, fat, slick incredibly bland, mush made me want to puke. Dreadful. Which is a pity 'cos Mrs. JM bought it for me as a pressy and I wanted to like it so much. (In retaliation I bought her Love Actually which she had long wanted to see but had never got round to watching. She hated it; so we're even.)

The Last Days of Frankie the Fly
another £1 wasted in Tesco. When will I learn? Nu-Image's movies are crap. No matter how many good names they get to act in the damn things (or how wonderful their assistant editors are).

Menace from Outer Space.
I think if you fall asleep three times while trying to watch a movie it's time to give in. Especially as this piece of dross was cobbled together from episodes of a 1956 kids' TV show called Rocky Jones, Space Ranger.

Women in the Night -

Hooo Boy! This piece of cheapo, postwar Nazi & 'Nip' bashing shite must hold some sort of record for the most on screen verbiage before the first spoken line of dialogue in motion picture history. First we have a scrolling prologue (four screens full) - Followed by an establishing shot of the 'Bureau of Records', followed by a stock footage interior, and a zoom in on a drawer labelled "Case Histories Crimes Against Women", a tilt down to another drawer: "Confdential". A hand pulls open the drawer and starts to flip through the files giving us a chance to read their titles and some of the contents: (three shots showing eleven separate bits of paper to read). The last piece of paper is turned over to reveal a still photo of some women and a German soldier. Lap dissolve to stock footage of somewhere labelled: "Shanghai". Dissolve to yet another on-screen, full screen message: "In the Final Days of the war...blah blah blah". Cut to another filing drawer, a hand pulls out yet another typewritten card to read: "Crimes against Hospital Nurses Location: Shanghai". Lap dissolve to a sign "University Hospital" Dear god! I'm loosing the will to live here... Another dissolve to a sign saying "Nurses Quarters", another dissolve to a crucifix. The entire audience spells out 'I N R I' to themselves they are, by now, so used to reading anything that's on the screen. In all it's four and a half minutes! before anyone says anything meaningful - and then it's to read out a list of the character's names as they step forward one by one. Heaven help us! Not more establishing! There are seven writers credited with the script on this movie; I guess none of them had an eraser.
Luckily my copy died about ten minutes later. I will not be looking for a replacement.

Cyber Tracker -
Starring Don "The Dragon" Wilson (that should have been enough) I gave up after our bodyguard hero's wife delivered, with all the emotional depth and earnestness of a high school performance of Strindberg, the immortal line:

"I can't live my life waiting for you to walk through that door dead or alive."
A line I am determined to work into a play or story some time..

Bettie Page
April 22, 1923 – December 11, 2008

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Holly made her speaking début* today in the school nativity play. She was the Archangel Gabriel and was wonderful. By which I mean she entered when she was supposed to, stood where she was supposed to stand, delivered her lines loudly, clearly and in the direction of the people they were supposed to be directed at, and all without being prompted once and - and this is the really amazing bit - and she didn't pick her nose, or fiddle with her knickers once the whole time she was on stage (which is more than I manage to do in any shows I'm in).
She also exuded a golden mystical glow and hovered a good six inches above the stage, but that might just have been a wee bit of wishful pride on my part.

Better late than never (I know you've missed it) here's the monthly What I Watched On My Winter Holidays list for November. It's only two weeks late.
  1. The Man From Planet X - An American studio film set on a small Scottish island which happens to be the closest point on earth as a passing planet zips past (like they do). Lots of walking past the same plaster rocks, fog, and 'nightime' shots to disguise the small studio space and lack of scenery. The obligatory alien abduction of the heroine happens off-screen - this movie was that cheap. In fact not a lot happens really, apart from some of the most atrocious 'Scottish' accents ever committed in Hollywood; they were fun.
  2. Freejack - oh dear god. Based on a story by one of my favourite SF authors Robert Sheckley - I hope he got paid a lot. It was worth it though to hear Anthony Hopkins deliver the line: "Welcome to my mind..." as only he could. A moment you can enjoy here and now, without having to waste ninety minutes of your life like I did, by watching the trailer:

    Though it was probably better in context.
  3. The Addams Family - Slightly postponed from Hallowe'en's Friday Night With the Kids Movie. I love it - but try telling that to an angry mob.
  4. Lady From Shanghai - which, once you get past Welles' 'Oirish' accent, is a stunning little film. As with all of Welles' movies I would love to have seen the long lost original cut.
  5. Flight of the Navigator - meh!
  6. The Man With Two Brains - I laughed. A lot. Steve Martin used to be funny and still is. By which I mean the films he made then are still funny now - unlike people like Gerry Lewis, or Arthur Askey who were funny then but aren't now (and haven't been for a long time). Though there were people who went on laughing at Arthur Askey years past his (and their) sell-by dates so maybe I'm just laughing at stuff that I used to find funny but that isn't widely considered really funny any more and I just haven't noticed.
    I guess the acid test will be whether my children find The Man With Two Brains and The Jerk funny in a few years time. Fast forward six years and I can almost hear one of my girls saying to the other (or possibly one of the others depending on the sex of child number three, due in less than four months): "Oh crap! Dad's going to do one of his 'Is This Funny?' experiments on us again, just pretend to like it so he doesn't feel old, will you?"
    I love my kids; they're so considerate...
  7. The Earth Dies Screaming - Great title, lousy movie (a Universal Law I suspect) in which a small bunch of set-bound survivors of some unexplained catastrophe (possibly the dreadful score) which has left everyone but them dead, slowly discover that world's population (or at least the population of that village where they seemed to shoot every other episode of The Avengers) was destroyed by an alien force using killer robots (only two of which are ever seen on screen at the same time). The robots, it turns out, are controlled from a teeny weeny radio tower in the middle of a field nearby which our survivors blow up using some convenient dynamite. Huzzah!
  8. The Starfighters (MST3K) - a monumentally dull film which consisted for most of its running time of every single inch of US Air Force stock footage of the Lockheed 401 Starfighter intercut with a total non story of three new recruits making a lot of telephone calls. Starring a man whose later credits include several single episode appearances in TV shows culminating in: "Ironside" .... Paul (The Body) (1 episode, 1971). The Starfighters was probably the highpoint of his career. As highpoints go it's probably one of the lowest ever.


Tuesday, December 09, 2008

A whole week since my last blogging. The weather has warmed up a bit - though I'm sitting at the computer with a hot water bottle on my lap and a quilt wrapped round me, I haven't had any adventures, no excitements. I haven't read any books, listened to any groovy new music, watched any new films. I haven't written anything, insulted anybody, had any fights, with anyone I haven't done any evil crap music things over on the other blog, hardly done anything in fact apart from my annual misguided attempt to out stare Christmas in the hope that it will back down and slink away, humbled and defeated, and just disappear...

just fuck off...

just go away...

As normal I have lost; Christmas IS inevitable. (Dammit!)

In admitting defeat I have drawn my first cartoon for weeks - which you'll not be seeing for a bit because it's for this year's family Christmas Card (Phoebe and Tyler only just got last year's Christmas card - and they had to fly 8,000 mile to get it.) This year it almost has a 'seasonal' feel to it, unlike last year's:

Grotto 101
Merry Zmas 2007
Well it made me laugh.

One of the things I hate about this time of year (apart from the cold, the wet and the vast number of parsnips* in the organic veg box) is the imminent arrival of the whole Christmas / New Year's bollocks.
For years I have managed to sidestep the whole Hogmanay nonsense on the grounds that expecting me, as a non-drinker, to endure enforced jollity in the company of insanely pissed, and raucously jovial people is a cruel and unusual punishment that no man should endure - and anyway, someone has to babysit the kids don't they. Goodnight don't get too pissed and don't breath on me when you come home. Happy new year? Whoop de doo. When I wake up on January 1st my nose is usually still running, and my feet are still cold and I know that for the rest of the year everyone is still going to be utter bastards to each other all over the world, no matter how much drink-induced bonhomie the BBC televised from Edinburgh's Royal Mile.

Nya! Fuckit. I'm just turning into an old grouch. My brain stops working in any meaningful way in December. I grind to a halt. This happens to me every year. All I really want to do at the moment is stay in bed with the curtains drawn and eat vast amounts of fat. I want to hibernate. My body just wants to eat butter by the block, miss this bit of the year out all together and Fast Forward to April. Unfortunately for my body I have kids who get up and need feeding (no matter how dark it is outside in the mornings) and who have come to expect Father Christmas to leave them goodies.

And we don't have any curtains in the bedroom.

*The Devil's veg.

Here's the best misplaced apostrophe I have come across in ages. I love this one. Makes my brain hurt trying to work out if there are two simultaneous spelling mistakes going on here or not.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Blog Entry Number 501

Normal service will be resumed as possible. A combination of viruses, second-hand jet lag, and some of the coldest weather we have had around here for ages (down to minus ten C locally and snow closing the roads) have not made sitting in an unheated part of the house trying to think (let alone type) pretty low in the old pecking order at the moment.

Higher up the pecking order is paracetamol, tea, hot water bottles, bed and trash SF novels.

I will be back in touch when I re-emerge.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Well the show's over. Two weeks spent learning my lines and where to go to say them (and which character I was when I did - we doubled up a lot in this piece; I played six characters in a one hour show) - thankfully there was very little furniture to bump into on the stage and it was a fun show (if a little melodramatic at times - but it was aimed at kids). And one week actually performing.
It was a nice little gig but I'm happy to put away the Dr Strangelovian pseudo-German accent that has been driving the family up the walls for three weeks now. Chunks of the show were very loosely scripted and, to a degree depended on audience reaction, while other places were dictated by the need for something to be happening while people frantically changed costume before they came on again. This show was done on the floor of school halls with the audience sitting in rows on three sides. The size of the area we worked in varied according to the size of the audience, which depended on the size of the school. With thirty bums on seats the floor space was quite small. With one hundred and fifty we were suddenly acting in the middle of something that felt like a football pitch. It is surprising how much longer it takes an actor to get off stage and change costume when they have to cover an extra few meters to get off stage. I couldn't just speak slower to cover the extra time needed, I had to be able to stretch out the moment while still being in character. So I needed to be able to think on the hoof in the voices of the Herr Professor and The Game-show Host and improvise bits. Playing with their voices while not actually acting them helped a lot - I'm sure there's a dead posh actorish word for all this but I haven't a scooby what it is. It did start to get very irritating though.
Any script I act in gets very loose when I'm near it. I start out with good intentions and learn all my lines like a good little actor but when I actually come to get them out... well, to paraphrase the great Eric Morecombe "I was saying all the right words - but not necessarily in the right order." For the most part this didn't cause a great deal of trouble with this show. Most of my stuff was physical (Comic Staggering Drunk who turns to tragic mess by end of show) or basically long monologues, so, if and when I did wander away from the exact words on the page, it didn't matter that much so long as I got the main points in - and gave the next guy the right feed line at the end of it all.
Which I sometimes did.

Now, several days later, Phoebe and Tyler are here (huzzah!) after a Marathon 156 hour flight from Portland during the course of which, Phoebe's luggage went AWOL. Again! This happened the first time they came to visit some six years ago. Her bag was delivered here 24 hours later.
It's great having them here. They're so comfortable to have around.

My eyes it turns out are fine. I finally got ushered into the "other room" on Saturday and spent about fifteen minutes with my head inside something that looked half like a high-tech nineteen fifties hair-dryer turned on its side and half like something Stanley Kubrick would have loved to have used on 2001. Fifteen minutes staring at a bright dot on the inside of a bright white hemisphere and clicking a button every time I saw a flash of light in my peripheral and not so peripheral vision. The result of all this intense staring and clicking was that my retina was 100% fine and not peeling off in chunks, or whatever it is that happens in Gloacoma.
Staring at the blank whitness for so long without moving my eyes and trying not to blink while I did it was a very disorientating and slightly trippy experience which I hope not to have to repeat.

I wonder if Jet Lag is contagious.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

I'm seeing the opticians on Saturday, apparently he needs to stick my head in a machine to see if I have glaucoma or not. A couple of weeks ago I went to have an eye test, a visit prompted mainly by my loosing both my pairs of glasses. And as a result of routine screening things the optician said there are a couple of indicators that point to me having a problem. The test I'll be doing on Saturday will be a definite yes or no. The reason he couldn't put my head in the machine last time was because it was, "In the other room". So whether he has to get it out specially, or we have to actually go to the 'other room' which for some unspecified reason was not get-intoable last week I don't know. All I know is I shouldn't look up words like 'glaucoma' on Wikipedia without having a stiff drink to hand. As you know, I don't drink. Scary - But enlightening! I never knew this before but apparently there is a part of the human eye called the 'zonule of Zinn' which sounds like something straight out of a Dr Seuss book. Which, come to think of it, is even more scary than the prospect of imminent blindness.

Well, I'll still have my ears. But not if I keep listening to crap like this.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

After two weeks of hard graft, poncing about, and assuming a bewildering variety of bad German accents in Kinlochleven High School's theatre space - which is just through the blue door on the left in the second picture in this semi-pointless slide-show - the show is finally coming together.
With two working days left before the first show I now know nearly most of my lines - or at least I know how my huge long speeches start and end (the bits in between can take care of themselves) and we all seem to have most of the "Omigod! I've got to come on here next, but the costume I need to be wearing when I do is all the way over there" type logistical problems sorted out - so that leaves tomorrow to put in the acting.

We'll get there.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Today's displacement behaviour is here but, just to whet your appetite, here's a sneak preview:
The fish sing all in chorus
The Prawns! (The prawns!)
I shout olé, (olé), olé

Friday, November 07, 2008

This is avoidance behaviour and a wee explanation of the lack of Blogging around here for a while.

I should be, at this very moment, pacing the living room floor waving my arms about, and ranting in a outrageous 'German' accent, or smarming about with an oleaginous grin. I am (or should be) trying to learn my lines for the play I'm doing the week after next. I'm getting paid to do this. For the next three weeks I'm a jobbing actor again with a real job! and, for once, I haven't been given screeds of dialogue; I have instead been given screeds of monologue. I'm not sure which is worse. At least I'll only have myself to blame if things go wrong this time. In this show I'm a really oily game show host, a madly OTT German scientist type (think Dr Stranglove), the Village Drunk, a singing Cockney Geezer, a Folky singer and - I'm sure there's another one - oh yeah, Teenage Rugger Bugger drinking boy.

And 'Dad'.

Must learn Lines.

Must learn characters.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Retox the Geek In Me

I'm getting in touch with my inner geek. I know he's there and wants to come out. We're making friends.

The other day while doing non-geeky, totally girly type dusting behind the computer, I noticed that my video card seemed to have two sockets to plug monitors into. One was full (obviously) but the other was suspiciously empty and, to my untutored eye, not normal. It turns out it's something called a DVI socket. I found this out by reading through the handy envelope of gumf Dell supplied with the machine when I bought it. "Plug the Monitor into the VGA or the DVI socket," it said, "But not both."

"But not both."

I hate being told not to do things.

It doesn't, I thought, say not to plug another monitor into the other socket...

Unfortunately I had nothing to hand to plug into it. There is another monitor sat on this desk (plugged into another computer - the two are networked) but it has a VGA plug.

Five minutes later via the mighty power of eBay, (peas be up on it) and after spending the price of a cup of non-frothy coffee, I was suddenly the proud owner of a VGA to DVI converterizer thingie - the existence of which I had been totally ignorant only a few minutes before.

It arrived today. Ten minutes after I had noticed the post had landed on the hall floor, and I had nipped upstairs with the wee Jiffy Bag, tweaked settings and rebooted, I was swapping and stretching documents across both monitors, giggling with happy delight. I am either a very sad man or very easily pleased.

Merriol thinks it's on the sad end of the spectrum. Holly on the other hand was impressed, but Daisy was delighted. She thought it was the greatest thing since sliced brioche and the two of us spent ages, sat at the desk, taking it in turns to resize text documents over both screens. One of those middle-aged geek / four year old child bonding moments that will live in the memory.

Unfortunately I have now got to work out some way of connecting the monitor to both computers without unplugging and re-plugging the thing every time anyone wants to use the other computer. It's ages since I had a data switch built into my set-up but my pile of cables, switches, adaptors, and What-exactly-IS-this-thing?s turns out not to have the required combination of bits.

I may have to lash out another cup of coffee (and maybe even a Danish Pastry) and buy more.

Der OctoberFilmFest
  1. Dr Doolittle
    - another 90 minutes of my life I want back - thanks kids! Best bit of this film was discovering, after the event, that it was directed by the woman who played officer Lucy Bates in Hill Street Blues. Yep, that good.
  2. X Men
    - what jolly nonsense! Not seen any of the X Men series before and this was unexpectedly better than I was... er... expecting... One of the better comic book movies.
  3. Killers From Space
    - A masterfully demented, fever dream of a movie directed by Billy Wilder's idiot brother.
  4. Alien Nation: Body and Soul
    - Meh Buddy-Cop SF TV movie.
  5. The Beast of Yucca Flats
    - I'm through the bottom! Finally after years of scraping around the bottom of the barrel of movie dross I've broken through and found out what's lurking underneath. This is a masterpiece, a real genuine masterpiece! Shot without sound (and presumably without a script) and then voiced over by the director reading a elliptical bursts of insane, portentous lines - very few of which seem to bear any relationship to the badly framed inaction on the screen (and even when they do they're just bewilderingly weird: "Boys from the city, not yet caught in the whirlwind of progress feed soda-pop to the thirsty pigs.") What does appear on screen is brilliantly encapsulated, far better than I ever could, by this on-line review:
    "We get a five-minute scenes in which a couple of people walk aimlessly and slowly through an ugly, featureless desert for mile after mile, just walking and walking, and we're lulled into a false sense of security...and then BAM! Just when you least expect it, all of the sudden they STOP WALKING AND KIND OF STAND THERE FOR A WHILE."
    That's it. That's the entire movie right there.

    How long y'all want me to stand here, mister Coleman?

    How do you pack: defecting Soviet scientists, Russian assassins, an atomic explosion, at least five on screen murders (one of which develops into an implied necrophiliac rape and may well have come from an entirely different movie it made so little sense), cops shooting at innocent fugitives from a light aeroplane, a car chase ending in a shoot out, daring feats of mountain climbing... etcetera into a 54 minute running time - and make it so boring!? It takes a tremendous talent to do that. Francis Coleman was that talent. He directed two other movies. They're now on the list. Oh God, I laughed and laughed. "Push a button; something happens".
  6. Thor and the Amazon Women
    - Italian musclemen movies - you gotta love them. This one was shot in winter - you can see the breath misting as they speak for many of the scenes - which must have been very uncomfortable for the actors poncing about in skimpy loincloths but at least the goose-pimples would have stopped them slipping off. Also contains lots of gladiatorixes necroerotically stabbing each other (and themselves) with sharp pointy things in "The Triangle of Death".
  7. Unearthly Stranger
    - rather effectively creepy little British SF movie with few characters, no special effects, lots of talk, some passable ideas, and some interesting camera work. All that and Warren Mitchell with a Scottish Accent.
  8. Red Zone Cuba
    - (MST3K) I have now watched 2/3rds of Francis Coleman's oeuvre in one week! (Medals! I want medals!)The Beast of Yucca Flats and this. He didn't get any better and he decided to act in this one as well. ('Act' here meaning to stand in front of the camera and light cigarettes.) His co-star was the producer. Dreadful.
  9. Space-Thing
    - Brilliant title for what turned out to be a 1968 soft-core porno flick. Though maybe it was a hard-core porno flick in 1968 - we saw pubes - twice! Amazingly enough it had a more coherent plot and better (looking) actors than either of the Coleman movies.

    I don't watch this stuffjust for the tits - honest!.

  10. Thunderpants
    - Funniest thing I've seen for ages that was meant to be. - Meant to be funny I mean.
  11. Oasis of the Zombies
    - dreadfully dull French movie which has 'English' students played by French actors dubbed by Americans getting eaten by Nazi Zombies somewhere in North Africa. Worse than it sounds.
  12. The Time Travelers
    - delightful little cheapo early sixties American SF quickie that almost worked. (If they had managed to loose the 'comic' it would have been a lot better.) Directed by Ib Melchior who also wrote the odd Journey to the Seventh Planet and the even odder Angry Red Planet.

    Today's gratuitous peachy bum shot.

  13. SST -Death Flight
    -(MST3K) 1970s made for TV disaster on a plane movie. Sometimes you have to wonder who wrote this shit. I mean really: disgruntled employee fills America's First Supersonic Jet Airliner's hydraulic system with 'corrosive' detergent (sic) which not only rots all the seals but then, when repairs are attempted, has managed to produce vast quantities of explosive fumes - which explode. Argh! No steering bits! Big hole in side of airyplane! Everyone does panic acting! Luckily the gallant crew (and Doug McClure) work out how to fly the plane without the steery bits - pitch is adjusted by getting the passengers to run up to the back of the plane when they want the nose to go up - and roll is produced by pumping the contents of one wing fuel tank to another. Hurray! Everyone is saved - all they have to do now is patch the drinking and toilet flushing water into the leaking hydraulic system... stop laughing at the back there - this is serious stuff! But what's that hospital like smell? Could it be the dangerous 'biological material' stored in formaldehyde (sic) loaded at the last minute and urgently on it's way to the Pasteur Institute in Paris has sprung a leak? Bugger me it has! Oh no! Everyone is being exposed to the deadly Senegal Flu! A dangerous new mutation of the virus with a death rate of 30% and an incubation period of less than just before the next commercial break! Oh, and there is no known cure. "'ello aeroplane of death, this is Paris air traffic control. Go away! We do not want you here - and we are turning off all the runway lights in case you try one of your sneaky American landings without asking things. By the way, everyone else don't want you neither... Go and crash in the Atlantic or somewhere. Nothing personal." Somehow 'London' is convinced to let the plane land. Just as the testosterone levels in the cockpit (fnaaaar!) couldn't get any higher, Doug suggests they fly to Senegal where the flu came from in the first place on the grounds that they might have the facilities to look after some rich Westerners. ("Look fellahs! Rich Westerners. Let's stop burying the thirty percent of our population that just died and look after them instead.) and not land in London where they might start a pandemic and kill lots of other Westerners. The passengers vote. To Senegal! They almost have just enough fuel... If only they can make it over this last... The plane crashes into a mountain just as Burgess Meredith is diverting bog flushing water into the flappy bits flapping system that meant they might have made it over the mountain. Crash! Everyone who hasn't died of Flu survives. Which is more than I did.
  14. Terror in the Midnight Sun
    - More 1950s, out of copyright, SF bilge. This time from Sweden. A 'meteorite' lands in Lapland. Scientist go to investigate. They ski around a lot (mostly in silhouette because it's hard to film people on vast snowfields with a very low sun. If you stand them facing the sun you see the camera's shadow on the ground. If you have them with their backs to the sun you end up with black blobs acting away on a white background - unless you have a shitload of really big lights - which these guys obviously didn't.) Reindeer are killed. An American girl is captured by a big shaggy something.

    Oh Wait - I'm Supposed To Be Terrifying?
    Oh Wait - I'm Supposed To Be Terrifying?

    She screams a lot. She meets three black garbed Aliens who say nothing. She screams a lot. A flaming torch wielding mob (on skis) corner The Thing and set it on fire. She stops screaming and falls sobbing into arms of ineffectual hero. The aliens leave in their spaceship - still without having said anything. The End (in Swedish).
  15. Hail the Conquering Hero
    - Preston Sturges.
  16. The Muppet Movie
    - Never seen it before and not as good as I was expecting - but thenThe Muppetsnever are. They're always better in the memory. I remember the TV show as being hilarious, required watching at the time, but when I actually watch an episode now (I have them all on tape) I'm always let down.
  17. At The Earth's Core
    - second Doug McClure movie of the week. In this one he's an intrepid Victorian explorer who, with professor Peter Cushing, accidentally discovers a Savage Land in the centre of the earth where hypnotic Pterodactyls enslave photogenic noble savages who just happen to speak English. Not a lot of plot but lots of fighting. See Doug fight. Fight Doug fight. Doug fights a dinosaur. Doug fights another dinosaur. Doug fights a fire breathing dinosaur. Doug fights humans. Doug fights 'Hoojah the Sly One'. Doug fights 'Jubal the Ugly One'. Doug gets 'Dia the Big Knockers' all to himself. Doug unite tribes. Tribes kill hypnodactyls. Tribes happy. Doug goes home. The end.

    You are getting sleepy... sleepy...
    I'm not hypnotising you, I'm boring you.

    The film does contain one line of sheer unadulterated moment of genius when the dottery Peter Cushing - having the time of his life hamming it up - stares a six foot rubber hypnodactyl in the face and defiantly says:
    "You can't Mesmerise me - I'm British!"
  18. Doppelgänger (aka Journey To The Far Side Of The Sun)
    - I really enjoyed this. Probably the best thing Jerry Anderson ever did - I know we're starting from a low place here but trust me on this one. Not great, but not bad, not bad at all.
  19. Babylon 5: The Legend of the Rangers: To Live and Die in Starlight Babylon 5: The Lost Tales - Voices in the Dark
    - two made for TV (or in the latter case straight to DVD) pointless, overly-punctuatedly titled (TWO colons?), and crappily disappointing additions to the glory that was Babylon 5 (may it finally rest in pieces. You blew it up, JMS! Get over it!).
  20. The BFG
    - the kids liked it.
  21. Strictly Ballroom
    - I have a theory that really good movies should make you come out from them moving differently. You should come away from a film responding physically to the world in a way you weren't when you went in. You should come out of an Indiana Jones Errol Flynn type adventure movie with a kind of daring-do swagger, Jackie Chan movie convinced you can jump up the side of a building and then leap onto a passing bus - I come out of Strictly Ballroom dancing.
  22. The War in Space
    - After a week off from the crap SF I returned with a bang. You might not remember this, but in 1988 Earth was attacked by green-skinned aliens from their base on Venus. They would have destroyed the world if not for a valiant crew of Japanese Hero types (and a token Westerner) who saved the day by zooming around the Solar System in their super flying submarine underground drilling spaceship thingie, throwing a lot of switches in lovingly detailed close up, and blowing up just about everything in sight - including the planet Venus. Wham! Gone. Oh, and the only female member of the crew managed to get herself captured by a horny Wookiee with a big axe and a leather fetish. God I love this stuff..

Sunday, October 26, 2008

I'm upstairs in the office. Downstairs there is the sudden scampering of urgent feet heading into the bathroom. A few moments later I hear:


I ignore it.


I'm good at this. I ignore it again.


I give in.


"I'm doing the horriblest poo ever! Get the air freshener..."


Friday, October 24, 2008

God! I hate learning new things. Every time I do it I get convinced I have finally gone stupid.

For the last couple of nights I have been wrestling with the record player, the software that slices whatever you play on it into handy track-sized WAV bits, the software that lets me chop off stretches of silence and wipe out the worst of the pops and crackles - and then converts the WAV bits into MP3 bits, and the software that converts those MP3 bits into smaller mp3 bits without loosing too much of the full glory of the stereophonic pap I'm trying to copy. All of these pieces of the chain have a braziilion and three options to choose from (none of which I understand). The results of the process of semi randomised trial and error and a whole evening's swearing and not seeing the blindingly obvious when it is staring me in the face can be enjoyed (if that is the right word) here:

I hope it will be a lot easier next time. I hope I actually learned something.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Cracked it! Thanks to Gil's recommendation of Rip Vinyl on yesterday's post I seem to have managed to make my first listenable to copies of LP tracks. Took me most of the night after getting Holly asleep after one of her too-tired overly-operatic, "Nobody Loves me!", prototeenager moments and watching a pretty dire Babylon 5 spin-off movie which (you'd have though I would have learned by now) I had been looking forward to with nerdy fanboy glee ever since Len and Sue bought it for me for my birthday.

To bed.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Let me introduce you to the latest piece of semi-obsolete equipment to hang off our computers here at JunkMonkey mansions:

In addition to all the other gubbins cluttering up the desk we now have a record player! A real honest to god record player, one of those things that makes big round bits of black vinyl spin round at various speeds and give up their juicy secrets*.   So, soon, when I have worked out how to record something I play on it into an MP3 without it sounding like it is being hummed through dented kazoos by drunken meercats - sound engineering being something that is a total mystery to me - I shall bore the world with snippets from my vast collection of crap records (if only to justify their continued presence in this house to my best beloved).

Be Afraid.

*This one does 78s too. My only regret is it doesn't wind up. Somehow I would find it deeply satisfying pandering to my inner steampunk by having some clockwork attached to my loose end of the World Wide Web - Steamcyberpunk?

Friday, October 03, 2008

It's that time of the month again. Every dreadful movie I have watched this month but with fewer stills of girl's bums than last month. Sorry about that - for listing the movies I mean and the lack of pictures of peachy buttocks to make it more bearable.

  1. Yellow Hair and the Fortress of Gold (1984)
    - I bought this movie thinking it was something else. I can't remember what the something else might have been now but it wasn't this unholy mixture of slapstick and Spaghetti Western sadism. It's long, it's boring, and hasn't a spark of originality about it.
    I have no idea who the producers thought the target audience for this movie might be but the pitch must have been a doozy:
    "It's a Spaghetti Western Comedy - only, and here's the twist, we have a woman hero and make it look like an old time Saturday morning children's serial to cash in on the Indiana Jones market! How can we loose?"
    Three big targets to hit - and they missed all three. The comedy is feeble - are we really supposed to find the fact that the generalissimo is a teensy bit camp funny? The serial framing device is so clumsily and laboriously done that any humour in it evaporates before it gets going. The whole point about the Saturday serials was that there was a cliffhanger at the end of each episode*, a point that seems to have been totally missed by the writers. The only one of their targets they came close to hitting was the parody/homage of the Spaghetti Western genre - but as that was a genre that was always shamelessly happy about sending itself up it's a very easy target to hit. Give anyone a week in Almeria with a few unshaven actors and they could have come up with this stuff.

    *Apart from the last one naturally.
  2. Fiend Without A Face
    - In a rural part of Canada populated by people with weirdly variable accents, something is sucking the brains out of the locals who live round an experimental Atomic-Powered US Air Force Radar base - the variable accents came about because this film is a British pot boiler made in Walton on Thames by a poverty row studio who couldn't afford many real actors - though they did manage to scrape together enough money to hire one Jeep and one American car as props thus creating about as convincing an evocation of Canada as sticking a red telephone box in the middle of Times Square and captioning it 'Piccadilly Circus' would convince anyone that New York could double for London. It turns out that what has been sucking the locals brains was a species of 'Mental Vampire' unwittingly bought into being by a crazed old coot professor and the only way to stop them is to blow up the control room (sic) of the military's, already out of control, nuclear power plant. Just goes to show Britain could make grade-A Z movies too.

    All The Way To Eleven
    It goes all the way to Eleven
  3. Cars
    - The kids loved it but it bored the pants off me. What was the point? Toy Story, Monsters Inc, The Incredibles - just about all the Pixar movies I have seen - have a sustained internal logic that springs from the world they are set in. The Monsters need to gather scream energy in Monsters Inc. and the reversal of that - in the child who escapes into their world is toxic to them - and all that follows from that is delightfully worked out, Buzz Lightyear's realisation that he is indeed a toy, and can't fly is one of the great tragic moments of modern cinema. In Cars we get the tired old story about finding out that what Really Matters In Life is not necessarily what you think it is, dolloped out with animated cars as protagonists. Apart from a few puns and substitutions - tractor tipping instead of cow tipping was the best - nothing much happens that couldn't have happened in a straight movie. The Toy Story movies could only happen in the Toy Story Universe - it made sense to spend all that time and effort to animate it and make it believable. Cars could have happened anywhere - so why bother?
  4. The World The Flesh and The Devil
    - loosely based on the The Purple Cloud by P M Shiel, this is one of those films that may well have lost some of its shock value over the years but is still interesting (the ending implies that the last woman in the world isn't going to choose between the two men who have been fighting over her but will in fact sleep with both of them.


    What would have been even more shocking to audiences in 1959 is the fact that one of the men is black. I doubt if this was shown in many cinemas in Alabama when it was released.) It's a great film on all sorts of levels. The shock value may have dissipated with the years but the issues it deals with haven't.
  5. The Missionary
    - slight but amusing.
  6. I Married a Monster From Outer Space
    - I have long considered this to be one of the greatest movie titles ever. I've never seen it before and it turns out to be a stupendously dull movie which sent me to sleep three times in one viewing (two of them simultaneously).
  7. Ikarie XB1
    - a 1963 Czech SF movie, previously watched in a chopped down American version known as Voyage To The End of The Universe. Another of the many movies which has resonances with, and reckoned by many to have been an influence on, Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey - though, if you play this futile game long enough it soon becomes possible to prove that Kubrick didn't have a single creative thought during whole of the making of 2001, an absurd notion - which doesn't stop everyone playing it. Ikarie XB1 has more claim than most contenders, ending as it does with the crew of Earth's first interstellar craft looking hopefully toward the future as abstract patterns flow before their eyes and the image of newborn baby fills the screen. (The American version, for some baffling reason, cut the baby and added aerial shots of New York, thus implying the crew were aliens come to Earth). Curiously compelling with some odd choreography in a shipboard party sequence - this is a big spaceship, one of the crew has a baby grand piano in his cabin. And I want the soundtrack.
  8. Jason and the Argonauts
    - I loved this as a kid and took every opportunity to watch it that I could get - which were few and far between in the pre VHS, DVD days of my youth. I remember the sequence with the 'Clashing Rocks' holding a special horrible fascination for me. I'm glad I shared it with my kids tonight, they said they enjoyed it but it doesn't half look like ropey old tosh to my jaded adult eyes. Ah well, another memory that should have been left undisturbed.
  9. The Notorious Bettie Page
    - fun little bio-pic of the fifties Pin-up girl. I wasn't entirely convinced by the need for the colour sections.
  10. Six Degrees of Separation
    - for a movie that hardly stops talking for a minute and rarely leaves the homes of rich urbanites holding glasses of dry white wine, this is hell of an exciting film. Far more so than any number of explosion and stunt ridden bits trash because, unlike most explosion and stunt ridden trash, I had no idea who the good guys were (if there were any) and what was going to happen next - this despite me having seen it at least twice before.
  11. The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl
    I think I've finally ODd on Robert Rodriguez's kid's - sorry, 'family' films recently. My kids with their normal hyper-uncriticality loved it.
  12. Cry-Baby
    - The Pope of Trash, John Water's rockabilly musical. I love it to bits; how can you not love a movie that has lines like:"You're rehabilitated. Here's three and a half dollars and a clean pair of underpants."?
  13. Cosmic Princess
    - Do I count this as a film? It's a TV movie made from splicing together two episodes of that great unintentional comedy hit Space:1999. Why not? It's not as if I'm going to be watching anything more like real film tonight. Favourite lines:
    Hero (Puzzling out why the Moon has just vanished in a overly sustained crappy visual effect): "There's only one answer: they've gone through a Space Warp. They could be billions of miles away."
    Sidekick: "...and we have fuel for less than a million."
    I can't even start to list all the reasons that those lines are so stupid but the implication that spaceships just stop when they run out of fuel had me hooting with laughter - but then I am the sort of twerp that finds that sort of thing endlessly amusing.
  14. The Fairy King of Ar
    - Presumably short for 'The Fairy King of Argh, Who Wrote This Shit!'. I would guess one of the dreadful things about being an actor is that you can't ever take your name off your work. Directors can hide behind pseudonyms, producers can blame the director, and everyone else can throw up their hands and blame everyone else for letting them down. The actors however are stuck there up there, on screen for all the world to see, unable to hide from the awfulness that surrounds them. And this movie is awful.
    Most of the blame lies with the direction - not that there appears to have been any, and a script that may well have been, judging from what arrives on the screen, little more than a rough outline, semi-improvised by the actors as they were shooting. The whole thing looks like it was shot in single, unrehearsed takes with no one having bothered to tell the cast and the few background artists what was going on or what they were supposed to be doing.
    In short it looks like an amateur production and I can't begin to guess at the behind the scenes events that left reliably professional jobbing actors like Corbin Bernsen*, Glynis Barber, and Malcolm McDowell so helplessly adrift; I occasionally work with youth drama groups and have seen more conviction from bored High School kids than is on display here. Still, I guess the principals all got a nice holiday in South Africa out of it (a bizarre location choice for a film set on the Isle of Man). I don't suppose anyone involved in this turd will be including any part of it in their show reels.
    Having said all that my hyper-imaginative, six year old, fairy loving daughter was hooked throughout and genuinely terrified during the 'climactic' trapped-in-the-mine sequence, and even my four year old got 'the message'.

    *Bernsen also has to suffer the indignity of most incredibly underwritten, non-specific terminal disease in the history of movies since the Production Code of the thirties prevented anyone from mentioning the clap.
  15. The Fatal Flying Guillotines
    - 1977 Kung-Fu nonsense in which everyone kicks the bejeesus out of each other upon sight for no apparent reason to the sound of hyperactive Foley artists having fits in a junk yard. I'm used to movies trying to unsettle or dislocate the audience in the opening moments but this movie had a new (to me) trick: an on-screen written prologue simultaneously read aloud on the soundtrack - almost. The back story they were trying to get over was the same but the words coming out the voice-actor's mouth weren't the same as what was up there for us to read. Very disturbing. Like trying to pat your head while rubbing your tummy anticlockwise. Mind you the sequence where an ancient Shoalin Monk disables our fit young hero by giving him a double nipple twist was almost worth the pain of the rest of it.
  16. Fugitive Alien
    - (MST3K) My first 'episodes of a Japanese TV show edited together to make a movie' movie for a while. Absence has not made my heart grow fonder. Though I will say one thing for the genre: they're very easy to fall asleep to. Visual sleeping pills. I suspect it's because they are so incoherent and disjointed; they jump from scene to scene in a way that defies any other sort of logic other than that which happens in dreams, that they somehow trick my body into thinking it's already asleep.


You're safe from this nonsense for another four weeks. More bums next time. I promise.

(note to self: Watch more movies with semi-naked women in.)

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Holly, when her mouth is not full of food (and quite often then) can talk for Scotland. She never stops. There's a constant stream of questions, news, 'jokes', ideas and opinions spilling out of her.
Tonight at tea she was unusually quite for a few minutes.
"If you had more legs," she eventually said after some thought, " - you'd have more bottoms."

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

I'm having a big clear out at the moment and one of things that is going is a huge pile of home-recorded videos. Stuff I'm never going to watch again - if I ever watched them in the first place - and as I hate throwing things away that might, at some possible future date, be potentially useful it hurts. I can't just dump them in the bin. I can't. I'm a overly conciousness recycler. I sort everything: cans, bottles, plastic bottles, compost, batteries, charity shop stuff, reusable packaging for eBay... I even sort through the contents of the upstairs waste-paper baskets before it goes out. But old videocasettes? No one wants them. Charity shop wouldn't thank me for them, they have a hard job selling legit prerecorded videos at 50p each so why would they want tatty old reusable tapes?

If I lived in a big city, and not a small village like I do, I would write salacious titles like: Aussie Nympho Nurses Go Down Under 7, Big Booby Babes Do Dagenham, and The story of Q (it's a threequel to The Story of O) on the spines then leave them all in a box at the gate knowing that someone would have them away with childish glee within minutes. But I don't. So I can't.

But it would be interesting to see just who picked them up...

...and I could always leave them outside someone else's gate...

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Another day's floor painting over and done with. Just filling the gaps on the floor under where the furniture currently is (and trying to un-stick the furniture from the floor to get at them) left to do. Because the kids have gone to a friends birthday party I managed to get a lot done done in daylight today which means I might get to bed before midnight. Yeeha!

Musical delights this afternoon included Bill and His Pop Guitar, a disc about which I know nothing except that the only copy for sale on the web is 60 US Dollars and it is brilliant in its trashiness: the best version of Eloise committed to vinyl and a reworking of Scarborough Fair that sounds like it came straight off a Spaghetti Western soundtrack.

And an album of 'Secret Agent Themes' played by a bunch of 'Jazz All-Stars' (some of whom actually appear to deserve the soubriquet). The themes in question being a couple of James Bond title songs, the Man From U.N.C.L.E theme, and, when the money to pay for copyrighted material ran out, bits of classical music 'Spy Themed' up including that bit of Borodin that became Stranger in Paradise and, very oddly, The Sabre Dance - maybe I missed it and it's already been done but 'Khachaturian P.I.' sounds like a great name for a TV show.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

I've spent the last two nights getting semi-stoned, varnishing the living room floor. A tedious job made bearable by the fumes and by simultaneously working my way through a pile of charity shop LPs I haven't got round to listening to - and may well never listen to again. Merriol and the kids are staying at someone's house overnight while I punge the place up so I can get away with filling the house with crappy music as well as volatile hydrocarbons.

Highlights of my Listening For Pleasure marathon (so far) include Sam Cooke wanabee and one hit wonder Jewel Akens, an LP I only bought because it had a track called The Vegetable Love Song - which turned out to be far less anything than I hoped.

A rather weirdly nice Japanese album about which I know nothing, except it's Japanese, in Stereo, and copyrighted in 1964, of traditional sounding music gently supported by a western sounding string section. It could be high art or the highest camp. The oriental James Last murders favourite TV tunes? I have no idea. I have no way of knowing. I do know I like it.

Waldo De Los Rios subjecting Mozart to various indignities, most of which seem to have consisted of telling the orchestra to play everything like a Ennio Morricone love theme - and then putting Animal, the mad drummer from The Muppet Show, in front of them. But at least I know I have a copy of the music from the Horse of the Year Show if, under some bizarre set of circumstances*, I should ever need it.

So far I have resisted the temptations of Pinky and Perky's Hit Parade - but am conceiving a plan where I listen to nothing but albums with pictures of girls in bikinis on the front cover. I have enough of them.

STOP PRESS: The new highlight of the night was confirming, after an inspired bit of supposition (good stuff paint fumes), that Bosa Nova percussion sounds exactly like Drum and Bass percussion when you play it at 45 rpm.

STOP STOP PRESS: 'Delilah' - in German!

*Suggestions on a postcard please to the usual address.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Another Small Snippet From The Screen-Play of My Life

Daisy is patiently waiting at my side as I finish off a few things on the computer before she can play a game. The last thing I 'have' to do is...


"Yes, Daisy?"

"I know what those dots are for..."


"Yes. They're so blind people can read them."

Had a letter read out on the Radio today on Radio 4's PM program - it was, as you may expect, a joke. And I managed to get another cartoon done. My sense of humour transplant seems to be working at last. I'm not entirely happy with the cartoon so I may do it again tomorrow; I'm playing with some new buttons and short cuts and I'm not sure I have them tweaked right yet. I'm also trying to get away from spending hours and hours at the things: tweaking components a couple of pixels this way, then a couple of pixels that way, then back again, and then up a bit to see if that makes any difference, and then trying to decide which of the 356 million shades of blue available to me are the funniest to colour it - before deciding that the particular bit I have just spent half an hour getting right is in fact superfluous and deleting it all together.
I'm trying to get back to doing quick drawings not getting involved in the the engineering projects that some of them became.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

One of the minor pet peeves in my menagerie is:

The Inverted Rainbow Graphic

The red should be on the outside. It's always on the outside. Red on the inside is just wrong. It's almost as annoyingly wrongly wrong as the wrongly used apostrophes that attack you from everywhere these days - and I came across a cracker in Oban last weekend. How on earth anyone managed to think the word 'brings' needed one is beyond comprehension. At the risk of sounding like the grumpy old man I am destined soon to become I think people should be made to pass a literacy test before being allowed to buy or operate any kind of printer capable of producing anything that is likely to be shoved up in a shop window* - or felt pens sold for writing on those pointy edged Day-Glo cards they use in Everything-For-A-Pound shops, the illiteratti do love their Day-Glo cards - sorry, their Day-Glo card's.

The other day Dai'sy and I were wandering through the village, for no other rea'son than it was almo'st a nice day and we felt like a wander, when we came around a corner and I saw a rainbow over the loch stretching acro's's, so it seemed, from one bank to the other.
"Look," I said pointing lochward, "a rainbow! I'sn't it pretty?"
She looked at it for a moment.
"Ye's," she said, "and it's the right way round too."

I love my kids.

*There should be a law requiring a limit to the number of fonts you can use too.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Tonight I have mainly been amusing myself by watching the (very dull) American cold war science fiction classic I Married a Monster from Outer Space with the sound turned down with the subtitles for the much better 1963 Czechoslovakian SF movie Ikarie XB 1 running underneath it. I didn't intend to this. It was a cock up on my part with the settings of a movie viewer. I'd downloaded the subtitles earlier in the day and had been attempting to get them to work properly - but forgot to turn them off when I started watching I Married a Monster. But it turned out to be oddly interesting as the dialogue on screen quite often matched, if not the mouth movements of the characters then certainly the mood of the moment, or they commented on the action in surreal ways.

This is not original. Stoned students have been playing Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon while watching the Wizard of Oz for years. And mashup is a well respected art form (well respected by me at least).

After realising how crappily semi-illiterate the subtitles were (words wererun together and homonyms kept razing there ugly heads hear and their), I had a poke about and found they were easily edited in any old text editor. So I tidied a few obvious ones up, saved them and - yep they still worked. So before I sit down to watch Ikarie XB 1 I'll run through and tidy up the rest of them - and resist the temptation to fiddle and make the actors say ridiculous things. The very strong temptation...

[Captain Kirk Mode]




Thursday, September 04, 2008

A new cartoon over on the Cartoonery place. The first one for weeks, I've been bad. But the house is looking a lot less messy and cleaner these days!

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

I shouldn't laugh.

Many years ago, after a prolonged period of happy unemployment, the government prodded me with a financially pointed stick and made me a filing clerk with the NHS for a while. I spent my days microfilming the medical records of everyone in Hull who hadn't been to hospital for ten years and shoving the microfiche of people's freshly miniaturised medical records around in very small draws. It was a very dull job only occasionally livened up by the discovery of a real cracker of an odd name among the files: 'Robert Gentleman Sword Small' and 'Tina Salmon' being the only ones I remember after all these years.

Tina Salmon, I don't know who you are, or anything about you and I hope you have had a long, fruitful, and happy life but if you ever read this then I'd just like you to know your name has, from time to time over the last twenty plus years, kept me mildly amused.

But you have been replaced in my affections...

A few weeks ago I was starting to read an article on symmetry in the New Scientist when I discovered that King Harold of Norway had just presented a prize to a noted French mathematician who gloried in the name of - Jacques Tits.

I'm sorry. I know I shouldn't. It's puerile and stupid but the thought that there is someone in the world called 'Jacques Tits' cheers me up no end.

Try this for size: Stand confidently before a full length mirror, imagine yourself dressed in black tie and tux, look suavely into the mirror with come-to-bed eyes, smooth an eyebrow with a dampened finger tip and then, in your best Charles Boyer voice, murmur: "Je m'appel Tits - Jacques Tits."

I know I shouldn't laugh but I do - every time.

Monday, September 01, 2008

I used to be able to draw. It was one of the few things I felt was really any good at. I haven't done a lot over the last few years. The other day I bought a graphics tablet. Woo-hoo! It was a cheap tablet (£30 from Aldi) but even so I thought it would make drawing the cartons (of which you may have noticed a spectacular dearth recently) a lot, lot easier.

I was wrong.

I make my cartoons in an ancient version of Adobe Illustrator and I just can't get the hang of using the tablet with it. The tablet works. There's no problem with the hardware it's just the chair / input-device interface that's the fucking problem. I can't just draw in Illustrator with it. I can use it in Photoshop, no problem - though it was initially a bit odd seeing what I was drawing with my hand down there ---> appearing on a screen up there ^ - but after a few minutes I got it. It is, after all, no different from the relationship between the mouse and the cursor or pointer. (Even Daisy made that jump of dislocation within a couple of hours playing.) It's no problem in Photoshop. I just can't get the bits of my brain to join whatever dots need joining up to let me get it to work in Illustrator.

Most of the problem is, I suspect, that I have taught myself how to use Illustrator by crashing around fining buttons that do interesting things with one click long after I have worked out laborious ways of doing the same thing using every other tool in the box. I don't so much draw my cartoons, as build them by putting layers of shapes on top of one another, reshaping and merging them and doing stuff that is more like the 'techie drawing' I learned at high school than drawing. It's more like collage and CAD than anything else. (I should have bought a book, it would have saved me a lot of heartache. But been a lot less fun) Whatever it is I'm doing, it isn't drawing. So I have now have to unlearn a lot of these laboriously self-taught techniques or invent some other new ones (or buy a book).

Another reason for the lack of cartoons is the unusually heavy load of high quality crap movies that have consumed my waking (and not so waking) hours this month

  1. Escape To Victory
    -I was tired; it was on the box. I have no excuse.
  2. Born Romantic
    - semi-decent Chick Flick.
  3. TRON
    - a watching (as if I needed an excuse) prompted by the news that some fuckwits are making a sequel, and the presence of a house-guest who wasn't allowed to see it when he was six and has never had the opportunity since. Act One gets crappier every time I watch it. Acts Two and Three just get better and better.
  4. The Incredibles
    - Because I haven't seen Wall-E yet I can still say this is the best thing Pixar have done. This week's Kid's Pizza Night movie.
  5. Silver Bears
    - Dull predictable Michael Caine movie that had 'International Co-Production' stamped alll over it. Apparently it was a comedy.
  6. Attack of the Puppet People
    - brilliant title; dull film in which a psychotic doll maker shrinkifies people and puts them into glass jars to take out and play with when he's lonely. Very set-bound and not a lot happens. Most of the 'enjoyment' to be got from this was admiring some OK (for the
    budget) model work and some really lousy back projection and spotting the joins. Not a lot of attacking goes on either.
  7. The Giant Claw
    - again. I told you I would watch this one again and again. Tonight we have a couple of French Couchsurfers staying with us. They are both, totally unbeknownst to Mrs JM who invited them, afflicted with the same Real Bad Movie bug as I am. I introduced them to The Giant Claw. We laughed like drains in two different languages.
  8. The Incredible Melting Man
    - (MST3K) I also introduced them to Mystery Science Theatre 3000. See, travel does broaden the mind; come to Scotland and discover crappy American movies!
  9. Robot Monster
    - aka 'Is that the one with the Gorilla Suit wearing a diving helmet?' - apparently the director knew a guy with a Gorilla Suit who wasn't working that week and just bunged a helmet on him. Mercifully short at 62 minutes, this is one of the most incomprehensibly awful SF movies of the period. Really. It makes no sense whatsoever - and then turns out
    to have been a dream all along, which might explain some of it but not why our Gorilla-suited Robot Monster falls in weird, bondage-crazed lust for the last nubile human girl on earth, or where the dinosaurs suddenly come from (answer: from One Million Years BC starring Victor Mature), or why the Destroyer of Mankind (the human population of the earth is down to eight at the startof the action) is hanging around Bronson Canyon with his Intergalactic Communicator Thingy sat on a rickety wooden table alongside the world's first automatic bubble machine (it even gets a pre-title credit). It makes Plan 9 From outer Space look classy. Shot in 4 days for $16,000, it somehow managed to take something like a million dollars at the box office its first year - making it a most, commercially, successful bit of ulra-crap. It must have been great being a cheapo movie maker in the 50s.
  10. The 4D Man
    - once more scientists meddle with things 'Man was not meant to know' and once again one of them turns into a rampaging monster who needs to kill to live. But this time it actually nearly worked because of some cracking acting and some halfway decent scripting. (And Lee Merriweather - hubba hubba!) Terrible score though. Randomly placed chunks of loud attacking Crash Jazz does not make for tension, mystery or romance.
  11. Spy Kids 2
    - disappointing sequel to an adequate piece of nonsense.
  12. Young Einstein
    - again, it always makes me laugh.
  13. King Dinosaur
    - (MST3K) A masterful combination of hundreds of feet of stock footage of everything from wildlife footage from several continents, the obligatory V2 taking off, the obligatory Atom Bomb explosions, and about seven thousand four hundred and thirty two individual shots of people flipping switches, inter-cut with four actors walking past the camera a lot, pretending to hide from Very Small Lizards shot in Very Close Up. And one of the best bad lines from a movie in ages:
    "I brought the Atomic Bomb, I think this would be a good time to use it."
    A delight. Another moment of genius was having one of our scientist explorers peering into a microscope while wearing a giant space helmet.
    The second Bert I Gordon movie of the month (he was also 'responsible' for Attack of the Puppet People) - and the second to use footage reused from 'One Million BC' (it cropped up in Robot Monster as well) - two of either would be enough, but two of both is starting to hurt.
  14. Labyrinth
    - better than I remember but I could have done without the bloody songs. Still the kids liked it.
  15. Como Agua Para Chocolate (Like Water for Chocolate) -
    Vastly disappointed. This was the first time I have seen the film and I was bewildered by the crappy, hurried and clumsy editing. It robbed the movie of the magic I remember loving in the book. Turns out the version I have is 30+ minutes short of the original Mexican release (but longer than the US version). I'd love to see the full thing but I doubt if it would live up to the book. Even allowing for the crappy hatchet job there were real problems with the direction.

    Mind you, for some strange reason,
    I really liked this scene

  16. The Lost Continent
    - (MST3K) Dreadful 1951 SF yarn in which a revolutionary prototype atomic rocket (ie the same old stock footage of a V2) crashes on a radio-active island populated by dinosaurs and has to be rescued by Cesar Romero and various other chainsmoking military scientist chappies one of whom, the obligatory Brooklynesque comic relief, has a very weirdly disturbing sexual thing for aeroplanes. Very odd. Unfortunately also very dull.
  17. Howard The Duck
    - I finally got round to seeing Howard the Duck. It took me thirty years and was not as hideously dreadful an experience as I had feared. Despite some really dire music, John Barry at his most syrupy livened up with a couple of Thomas Dolby songs, an opening act which should have killed any movie stone dead (this film cost a fortune and bombed at the cinemas) and some dreadful, dreadful writing- I ended up almost liking bits of it.

    Bits like this.

    Mostly it was the performances of a (very young) Tim Robbins, and a (very sexy) Lea Thompson (Who? I hear you saying. Trust me - she was hot!) and a virtuoso display of scene stealing from Jeffrey Jones as an Evil Overlord of the Universe. When those three were on screen there was some real fun being had. For some reason the script got better
    during the second act. The plodding punning of the first act gave way to some genuinely funny gags in the second. I actually laughed. Still, it's not an experience I will ever want to repeat. The strange sexual relationship between Howard (a three foot two Alien Duck and Beverley, tall sexy white girl) was present in the comics but had been toned down for the movie. By toning it down (instead of eliminating it) they made it even more disturbing than I remember it being on the page. In the comics Howard and Beverley were just boyfriend and girlfriend who happened to be different species. In the movie it verged into the pervily bestial.
  18. Journey to the Seventh Planet
    - written and directed by the wonderfully named Sid Pink (who also produced the deliriously weird Angry Red Planet which I watched last month) is a strange Danish American co-production vaguely reminiscent of Lem's Solyaris and Ray Bradbury story The Third Expedition from The Martian Chronicles. Pink may not have been the best director in the world but the man was trying to do - above and beyond the run-of-the-mill Hollywood dross of the day.There were ideas in both these movies that deserved better. More time would have helped for one thing; this film was shot in a week. I'm off now to track down some of his other SF movies: Reptilicus (1961) sounds good.
    Looking through the reviews of his movies the word that seems to crop up more often than any other is 'odd'. I like odd. Odd is good.
  19. Spy Kids 3
    - A rarity; a threquel that was better than its predecessor. The kids liked it too but I suspect they missed the Tron gags.
  20. The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension
  21. - Wow! Doc Savage on acid. One of those films that three minutes into it you realise you haven't got a clue what's going on and four minutes later you realise you probably still won't have a clue at the end - so you might as well just lay back and enjoy it. A film so stuffed full of oddities (like Rastafarian aliens, The strange presence of watermelons in engineering labs, a whole planet whose entire population is called John) and so many throwaway jokes that I suspect it will stand several repeat viewings - if only for the scene where John Lithgow attaches electrodes to his tongue for no other reason than to cue a flashback.

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