Wednesday, December 16, 2009

It's that time of year again.

All over the world proud parents are suffering.
maryandadonkey... "

School nativities.

By my calculations I have another ten years of the buggers to sit through. By the time Eben is treading the boards with a tea-towel wrapped round his head and a stuffed toy sheep under one arm for the final time I will be 60 odd and have been watching my kids be Angels, Josephs, Marys, Kings, and all the rest for 15 years. (Unless of course M and I have another kid in which case the clock is reset to minus ten again).
I don't mind school nativities too much. I can't stand organised religion in any shape or form and would happily see it banned from all schools the world over but for most kids it's their first real taste of drama and performance - both of which are GOOD things in my book. But why are school nativities so incredibly bland? Why do they always miss out the gory bits? (The Slaughter of the Innocents anyone?) And why no school Passion Plays at Easter? I can't believe there isn't one kid in every school the teachers wouldn't love to see nailed to a tree.

I just like the idea of little Timmy rushing home from school in floods of tears: "Daaaad! Waaaaaah! They picked me to play Jesus!"

I am a very cruel man.

Monday, December 14, 2009

All the crap movies I have watched last month. Fortunately it is a very short list.
  1. Wild Wild World of Batwoman aka She Was a Hippy Vampire (MST3K) - Oh God!

  2. Il gatto a nove code (1971) - Dario Argento does a Hitchcock with Ennio Morricone as his Bernard Herrmann.

  3. Our Man Flint - Stupidly sexist semi-spoof of the Bond films which was actually a funnier than I was expecting - and a lot funnier than the Austin Powers movies which covered the same ground. Our Man Flint played it straight. No mugging to camera. The story was cigarette paper thin (blue ones) but had a rather groovy design and music vibe which I rather enjoyed.

    You are not a pleasure unit....

    And, after careful repeated watching, at various speeds, of the seven or eight frames in which this girl is pulled from behind the glass panel before disappearing out of frame, I was able to answer one of those technical questions that has long bugged me about shower scenes in American movies of this period - answer: they wear flesh coloured bikinis.

    Ah well. Another evening well spent then.

  4. The Blue Umbrella (2005) - Merriol found this one, cruising through Blockbuster for suitable movies for the kids. We didn't realise it was in Hindi till it was in the machine and we were all snuggled up to watch it. It is, not to beat about the bush, a wonderful film. It's simple little tale of a poor Indian village girl who meets a Japanese tourist and swaps her amulet for the tourist's blue umbrella. The Umbrella is stolen, the thief is unmasked and eventually the girl forgives him. That's it. And it tore me up. Shredded me. I was in tears. Simple straightforward movie making, wonderfully acted, beautifully shot, and brilliantly edited. Not that it is perfect - even caught up in the emotion of the story, I noticed a few odd moments - a couple of line crossings, and a weird bit of focus pulling at one point which made me think the dialogue had been rewritten post-production and this was only usable shot the editor had. Sometimes I really wish the part of my brain that notices this sort of stuff would JUST SHUT THE FUCK UP! - till after the movie had finished at least. A delightful film.

  5. Yor, the Hunter from the Future - about which I have already waxed lyrical.

  6. When Worlds Collide (1951) - 1951 was a good year for heavily biblically subtexted SF movies. (See The Day the Earth Stood Still - last month?) This time it's Noah and the Flood that got reworked.

  7. Stardust - the Neil Gaiman one, not the David Essex one. And I was more than pleasantly surprised. It was nice to see the CGI serving the story for a change and not the other way around. And when things are going well I do really like 'the part of my brain that notices this sort of stuff', despite what I said a few movies ago. Towards the end of Stardust there is a tremendous battle between three witches and our hero, who is trying to rescue his true love from being sacrificed by them. Two of the witches are killed in the course of the fight but, just at the moment when the third, and strongest, witch has the helpless heroine and the hero at her mercy, there is sudden pause and we get a small panning shot from her POV of the desolation caused during the conflict. There is no one else in the room. There is no help coming for our heroes. The witch slashes with her knife - and frees the captive heroine. The witch turns away from them, what good are youth and beauty to her? Her sisters are dead what's the point?
    The shot we just saw wasn't really there to show us there was no hope for the heroes - though it did do that job very well - it was there to show us the witch's realisation that her life has no meaning any more.
    As the newly united lovers walk away, a cunning look comes over the witch's face and she attacks them again. She was toying with them. Now her sisters are dead she will not have to share the power that their deaths will bring her. The POV shot was her making sure they were dead. One simple shot and three different interpretations/uses of it presented - bang bang bang - one after the other. Great bit of movie making.

  8. Teenage Monster - One of the few cowboy monster movies. Not a genre that caught on. Off the top of my head I can only think of a few others: Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter, Billy the Kid vs. Dracula ... erm .... Anyway! Using standing sets, three horses, no continuity girl, and about four interiors:

    (one of which is very strangely framed at the top - presumably the low angle they chose to shoot it from let the camera see the top of the set and the studio ceiling - until they shoved a piece of cardboard in the way) our gallant crew of no budget movie makers - also responsible for The Brain From Planet Aurus (qv.) - tell the story of a widowed mother and her son who, after possibly being struck by a fragment of meteorite - the narrative is a little vague about the details - and finding gold in their mine, move to the outskirts of town where the widow romances the sheriff and the boy (now grown up to be a hairy homicidal giant) kills people with relentless monotony.
    In the end the boy beast, with the usual instincts of the doomed tragic monster type, heads for the local high ground where he throws the blackmailing scheming minx, who has pretended to befriend him, off the top of a cliff before being shot down like the hairy teenage monster that he is. The End - of a very long 65 minutes.

  9. War Of the Worlds - Not the Tom Cruise one, the 1953 George Pal one with Gene Barry. Better than I remember. The scenes where the mob take the scientists' vehicles, and wreck their chances of finding a weapon to defeat the seeming invincible Martians, must have been a real shock at the time. The conventions of the day would have had our heroes pulling a plot device out of the hat at the last moment ("It's crazy - but it might just work!") and saving the day but here, just at the point where you would expect this to start taking place, frantic selfish people spill out all over the screen and rip that hope away from the audience. Must have been much more disturbing to the well-ordered, conformist America of the Eisenhower years than it is today.

  10. War Of the Worlds - The Tom Cruise one. Which was better than I expected and which I was quite enjoying - until the moment when Tim Robbins' character appeared on screen. Then it went tits up very fast. I can suspend my disbelief with the best of them. Tom Cruise's character spends most of the movie running away, doing vaguely sensible things and generally not behaving like an action movie hero at all. So all that 'sensible' semi-realistic stuff almost outweighed all the bullshit stuff that was going on around him. Martian machines buried underground for millennia? Ray guns that vaporised people but not their clothes? - or at least not their outer garments, it seemed to vaporise their bras and panties pretty neatly, but has trouble with jeans and sweatshirts. I'll even let him get away with surviving having half a Jumbo Jet fall on his house, but it's later, having lost one of his kids and alone with his daughter, when things go wrong. In a scene almost recognisably drawn from a scene in the book, our hero meets a character called Ogilvy hiding in a cellar. (In the book Ogilvy was an astronomer, the character in the cellar was just called 'the artilleryman' though parts of Robbis character are also drawn from 'the Curate' in the book.) There are Martians all over the place and they are trapped, forced to keep quite in case they are discovered. Ogilvy's character is digging a tunnel and his continuous noise is putting them all in jeopardy. Our hero decides he has no option but to kill Ogilvy to save his own and his child's lives. He blindfolds his daughter and tells her to to sing while he goes to do the deed. This could have been - should have been - a horrible, terrible moment. Our decent, hard-working, loving family man forced to do something so horrible to protect those he loves. But it isn't. It isn't because the film-makers chickened out of making it a horrible terrible moment by making the character of Ogilvy creepyily weird, possible paedophile, so repulsive that people just wanted him disposed of. There was no moral ambiguity. Cruise was acting his cotton socks off in this scene but the moment had gone. Ogilvy was broad brush-stoke evil and therefore Cruise's character was entitled to dispose of him. Wouldn't it have been so much more interesting if Ogilvy had been nice. Helpful, friendly, nice - but just dangerously noisy. Wouldn't that have been one hell of a scene? Damn right it would. Oscar time all round I think, but Hollywood leading men don't kill 'nice' people do they? Three minutes later (having remembered he's an action hero) Cruise is blowing up previously impregnable Martian war machines with a couple of hand grenades he just happens to find lying about and reuniting his family. The End.

  11. The Great Garrick - a 1937 piece of nonsense directed by the great James Whale (better known for Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein and Showboat) which I love dearly. It's a flimsy piece of froth, totally set-bound and stagy but fun. It is my perfect Sunday Afternoon Movie. It's a shame and a puzzlement that it has never been released on VHS, DVD, Laserdisc - or any other home format you care to mention. I've had a treasured copy, taped off the telly some 20 or so years ago, and only recently managed to find a copy on line. The quality isn't the best but it'll do till someone at Criterion or somewhere rediscovers it and restores it.-

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Ages since my last post. Sorry world. How have you managed without me? It is at this point I usually dump the screen full of every movie I watched last month. But I'm not because it's bloody freezing in the office and I want to go to bed and watch another one - so, to keep you going:

Part One of My New Top Ten Ways of Surviving a Science Fiction B-movie list (part two will be with you when I think of some more). The previous top ten list (as hosted by my good friend Mr BaliHai).

  1. Don't go Anywhere Near the Derelict Ship. Just don't do it. Don't go near it. Don't go in it. No matter how interesting it looks, or how much insanely valuable Alludium Fosdex there is supposed to be on board, just don't do it. Because you will die. I guarantee it- unless maybe you look cute in a vest and panties, or you are a cat, then you're in with a chance. Within minutes of you opening the derelict's airlock door and waving insanely bright torches round the dusty interior - something, or someone, will start bumping off your pals one by one. (If you do find yourself on a derelict ship with something bumping off your pals one be careful to observe the following

    • DO NOT walk backwards down corridors, no matter how impressively huge a gun or flame-thrower you are holding. You're just asking for trouble.

  2. Don't Take a Job as a Guard in an Off-world Penal Colony. I really don't have to spell this one out do I? Just turn the page and search the want ads and look for something a little safer - like juggling live hand grenades.
  3. Giant Spider Webs are Usually Made by Giant Spiders. Giant Spiders are not vegetarians. They don't build those big sticky things to catch broccoli. Avoid. (Unless, very weirdly, you are made of broccoli - in which case I think you are probably safe.)
  4. Women, Never, EVER! Tell Your Husband You're Pregnant Just After He's Walked Out on an Evil Corporation. This is a variation of 'Older Cop Syndrome' which happens a lot to police sergeants with only three days to go till retirement. Either way, death at the hands of evildoers is almost always guaranteed - usually within sight of your husband or partner who will be just that little bit too far away (probably buying you a hot dog) to be able to help you.

Monday, November 30, 2009

I just turned myself into a verb!

A new level / depth of displacement behaviour!

(We're on in two days and I still don't know my fucking lines... )

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Remember a few days ago when I said I lived in hope of finding an LP cover as compulsively horrible as this one?

I should be careful what I wish for. Because today, in Ft. William's Save the Children's Cancer for Sick Animals shop, I find this:

Willie Sutherland is the guy in the glasses. He's blind. According to the minimal sleeve notes the guy on the right is Frank Coutts, the little girl is called Mandy Coutts and is, presumably, his daughter, neither of them (as far as I know) were blind. Nor was the photographer, or any of the three men and a dog Wick-based record label Grampian Records.

Stevie Wonder was blind. So was Ray Charles. So were a brazzilion other blues, gospel, jazz and folk singers: Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Willie McTell, Blind Willie Johnson, Sonny Terry, and Blind Boy Fuller to name but a few easily lifted from Wikipedia.

None of them got stuffed with a record cover that made them look so predatorialy pervy. Even for 1972 this is one ugly fucking record cover.

Now I have had this LP for at least six hours I think the thing that disturbs me most about it is the spacing of the lettering, those huge gaps - there presumably to stop li'll Mandy's cotton socks getting in the way - very unsettling.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

I Can't Multi-task! - I'm Only Seven....

One of the reasons I keep the film log I post here, is so that, in some future time, my kids can read it and a. understand some of the jokes and weird things I have been saying to them and b. find out the name of 'that movie' with a particular image or moment that has seared itself into their juvenile heads.

Over on IMDb there is a whole (busy) message board dedicated to answering questions about movies. A lot of them are along the lines of: "I saw this movie when I was a kid and I would love to know what it was - all I remember is that there is this bit where... " followed by some very sketchy, befuddled details. Quite often regulars on the forum name the elusive movie within minutes and the original poster is effusively grateful. " You guys are amazing! I've been looking for this movie for twenty years!" etc.

So, future Holly and Daisy, the movie with the girl with the blue umbrella was The Blue Umbrella, the bit with all the spiders flying into the sky was Charlotte's Web, and the reason Daddy has been giggling like an idiot for the last two days and bounding around like a loon screaming "Yor's World - he's the ma-aaaan!" is because he watched Yor: The Hunter From the Future....

I don't use the word 'awesome' if I can help it. It's not a word that fits too happily in the mouth of a middle aged, middlish-class Brit. It makes me sound like I'm desperately trying to cling on to my rapidly receding youth - like the balding, middle-aged Teddy Boys that caused me so much amusement in my own spotty adolescence. I avoid using 'awsome' for the same reason I avoid using words like: 'Dude', 'Rad', 'Bitchin' and 'Gnarly'. But I have to use it now. Yor: The Hunter From the Future is an awesome film.
If I had a comedy sidekick he would at this point pop up and say: "You're in awe of Yor?"
Yor is the Man! Yor is the prima inter pares of Italian SF movies, A truly wonderful piece of crap movie heaven on earth. If anyone ever asks me why I watch so many dreadful movies I will make them watch Yor. It's the eternal hope that I will find something as wonderful as Yor that makes me carry on. It is, in short, the dog's bollocks. Paydirt! The movie that has everything: a truly bewildering masterpiece of crap which proves, if nothing else, that the Italians invented Mashup years before anyone else thought of it.

Turn down the house lights and cue the post Flash Gordon, Queeny-lite type intro music of...

So, after we have recovered from the opening credits what happens? Or more to the point, what doesn't happen? Yor, (He's the man apparently) disappears from the screen for a few minutes and we spend a few blissful moments with a tribe of hippy cavemen who, apart from looking like they are about to announce the imminent arrival of Monty Python's Flying Circus, are tra la la blissfully happy in only the way that a bunch of characters due to be brutally slaughtered to a man by the end of the first reel can be.

Soon the happy hippy hunter-gatherers go on a hunt (or a gather) and within seconds one of the tribe, a pretty young female in a leather bikini and film-star teeth, spears what looks suspiciously like a small pig with ice-cream cones stuck all over it. But - Argh! What's this! Suddenly the badly dressed pig's mum heaves into view and the the front half of a giant cardboard flesh eating triceratops bursts out of the jungleywoods and attacks! Leather bikini girl is doomed! But suddenly YOR -
Aaahhhh! The Hero of the Universe!
- jumps out. Yor hits dinosaur with axe. (I am tempted here to make a joke about Italian dinosaurs being called 'Dino', but I won't.) Yor leaps over Dino's prongs like a Minoan bull dancer. Yor hit Dino again with the axe - right between the eyes this time. Dino die. Yor exultant.

Yor drink Dino blood. Yor hero to tribe. Big party. Girl in the bikini do the hoochie-coochie dance because she suddenly has the hots for hero hunk man in bad Hulk wig. Suddenly! before the hoochie coochie gets really interesting, purple painted Neanderthal cavemen attack. Our hero, his newly acquired crumpet, and her elderly guardian flee - and everyone else is killed, apart from all the women who are captured and dragged away to be ravished. And the audience is happy! because we know where we are. We are in One Million Years BC country, okay, the heroine's boobs aren't as big as Raquel Welsh's (though Yor's are) and the monsters are rubbish, but let's just settle back and enjoy the anachronistic nonsense of cavemen vs. dinosaurs. Yay! Go dinosaurs!

Back to the plot.

Pausing only to possibly have implied off-screen sex in an old tree, Yor and the girl retire to a secret cave. But suddenly! they are attacked by the Purple painted Neanderthal cave men again. Yor is thrown off a thousand foot cliff, and bikini crumpet girl is carried away, struggling, to the usual implied fate worse than death.

Yor wakes up, only slightly pissed off to find himself at the bottom of a cliff (but basically unhurt) - 'Nya! I've been thrown into deeper ravines... ' - and climbs back up to the top again. At the top he meets the elderly guardian who, presumably, has just been sitting there all night waiting for Yor to not be dead after being thrown to his certain death and climb back up to meet him. Together they go to the lair of the purple people eaters. They've just about given up working out how to sneak up on the bad guys' cave without being spotted when they are attacked by a 'Beast of the Night', a bloody big bat thing. Yor knocks it out of the sky with one arrow, then punches the bugger a few times, and ...

... this is so fucking brilliant ...

... lifts the dead bat beast over his head and uses it as a hang glider!

He is the Ma - aaaan!

Yor hang-glides into the cave, drop kicks the head bad guy in the face, and kills everything that moves. (Apart from bikini girl of course.) Yor pulls a rock out of a huge dam the purple people eaters have, for some inexplicable reason, constructed inside their cave and everyone Yor hasn't already killed with his axe dies. (Including, presumably, all the women he was supposedly there to rescue.)

Next morning our three companions are in an arid desert, on the other side of the big mountain, looking for a mysterious woman who wears a medallion exactly like Yor's ("Like mine?" "Yes, like yours, Yor.") Yor goes on alone.

Suddenly! Yor is attacked by stuntmen wearing rags and carrying pointy sticks - which are on fire! Yor is captured and taken before their queen who looks suspiciously like she goes to the same crappy wig maker as he does and - Da Da Dahhhh! - has a medallion just like his. Somehow we have slipped from One Million Years BC land into some kind of Conanesque world. Where muscle-bound adventurer drift from place to place encountering weirdness magic and evil. Okay. I can live with that. Yay! Go Evil!

"You are like me! Who are we where do we come?" cries Yor. (I'm paraphrasing here.) "No idea." she says, "The people here say I fell from the sky and they found me next to this huge block of ice with these frozen bodies in it. They too are wearing medallions just like us." (But not that much.) "Don't stress about it though because you are about to be sacrificed." Yor objects to being sacrificed, grabs a sword with flames shooting out of the side of it, and - kills everybody!

And then the cave collapses for no apparent reason.

Everywhere this bugger goes things just self-destruct and hundreds of people die.

So now Yor has two women. (He grabbed the queen on the way out of the collapsing cave). Yor Happy. (Actually Yor VERY happy). Girlies not so.
Just when the cat fight (told you his movie has everything) is getting interesting they are SUDDENLY ATTACKED by the purple Neanderthal guys who weren't as dead as we thought - and Yor has to kill them all over again. During the fight the queen gets killed (not, for a change, by Yor) and is buried - but only after Yor takes her medallion. No point in burying jewellery is there? Muscle-bound, walking catastrophe he may be - but he's not stupid.

Yor and his friends reach the sea. No sooner have they not even sat down for a rest, than they hear screams coming from a cave. They rush to the cave and find a Dinosaur (which looks suspiciously like the Triceratops he killed earlier, but without the big pointy bits) attacking women and children. (Doesn't anything this man kills stay dead?). They kill the Dino (again) and much happiness ensues and, not really understanding that they are dooming themselves to an early and messy death, the village invite Yor and his friends to stay and have a party. (They also try to give him another woman, but he passes.) Oh, and by the way, they say, something really weird happened round here recently. Something fell out of the sky and we killed the man who climbed out of it - and then it conveniently exploded so there is nothing to left to show you. Apart from this bit (I love the lengths low budget movie makers sometimes have to go to to get out of actually showing you anything on screen.) 'This bit', incidentally, looks very like a truck wing mirror with some bits of sticky-backed plastic stuck on to make it look a bit futurey. (I don't think we are in Hyperborea any more, Toto.) Anyway, party party party, la la la! happy happy Kaboom! Laser blasts from unseen circling spaceships explode the village - and everyone dies! (For a bit.)

Yor and his companions set sail on the (dead) headman's boat to the mysterious island of which he had (prior to dying) told them.

After the inevitable storm and shipwreck. Yor is captured by black suited robots left over from a slightly more expensive film starring Richard Kiel - that's right, this movie is cheaper than something starring the bloke who played a sidekick villain called 'Jaws' in a James Bond movie.

Somehow we have neatly segued from a really awful Conan rip off into a low rent post Star Wars SF movie, filmed in the same refinery they shoot every other low rent post Star Wars SF movie. There is a rebel underground trying to overthrow 'The Overlord' who is bent on 'doing evil' and making the same mistakes 'the ancients' did.
(Oh I get it! Were in the future that's why it's called Yor, the Hunter from the Future, oh yeah, I see - I can be so thick sometimes....)
These mistakes presumably include breeding a Master Race of androids, using Yor's sperm and bikini girl's body, to replace the old models, which are pretty plodding and useless, and look, as one reviewer so wonderfully put it: 'like Darth Vader had fucked Hello Kitty'.
"After you inseminate the woman, you die!"
Okay. Don't know about you but I think hearing that would pretty well squash my libido dead. So what's Evilon going to do now?
"Aha! After I wank you - and do something to her with a turkey baster - you will die!"?
The rebels choose this moment to - er - rebel. Why this moment? No idea. But this is the time they choose, and so, after a lot of running around shooting colour coded laser blasts (Goodies - green, Baddies - red), in which a couple of cavemen pick up 23rd century technology insanely quickly, and a couple of Action Man dolls serve as stunt doubles for some trapeze work (I kid you not), and a particularly pointless Lady of Shanghai type Hall of Mirrors sequence which did nothing to advance the plot but did give the audience a chance to have a good look at the film crew from several angles, Yor blows up the whole fucking island - and kills everybody!

It's incredible. Put this guy within three feet of anything that looks like an ordered society and it crumbles to bloody ruin within minutes. Apparently Edward Gibbon's massive Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is, for the most part, a chronicle of a happy enlightened culture, at ease with itself, and at peace with its neighbours. It's only towards the end, shortly after we read the phrase 'Then this bloke called Yor showed up', that it all starts going tits up.

It's now the end of the movie. The sun is setting in the west (it could be the east but let's assume it's the west) the island is sinking into the sea and Yor and his pals fly off into the setting to spread the word about not meddling with things man was not meant to meddle with (especially Yor's thing) and a voice over wonders aloud if he will succeed. I guess they were hoping for a series or at least a sequel.

I really hope they made one. Yor 2.

I'd invest in it.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Everything in the World is Boring - Except Crumpets and Gnocci

Continuing my fascination with the weirdness of LIDL's graphic design team:


And now I come to think of it, aren't complimentary things usually free? Defined as "given free as a courtesy or favour" by one online dictionary. So are you supposed to help yourself? And why doesn't 'food' deserve a capital letter?
I need to to get out more - except this is what I do when I do go out.

Maybe I should stay in more.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

I've been cooking a lot recently. I've been reading cook books and trying new things. Not exotically weird and wonderfully complex things but just extending my repertoire of basic, easy, good wholesome foods a bit.  I've got fed up with doing the same old things over and over again and I'm sure the kids and Merriol have been getting fed up with eating them too - well maybe not fed up but they're not greeting me emerging from the kitchen with  the "Yum yum! What's for tea tonight?" delighted enthusiasm that I secretly hope for every time - a hope I suspect I share with most of the homemakers of the world if the advertising aimed at us is to be believed.
"Yum yum! What's for tea tonight?"
"Deep fried Chicken crap in a bucket!"
 Delight! Delight! Delight!
Tonight, suffering from a surfeit apples - thanks to a pile of slightly bruised ones being reduced to near nothing in Tesco's yesterday, I tried Tarte au pommes Normande from  Elizabeth David's French Provincial Cooking.  The trouble with cooking from Elizabeth David's French Provincial Cooking is that there are no pictures.  I have no idea what I am cooking is supposed to look like. The apples for Tarte au pommes Normande should, I read, be: 'peeled and cored' then sliced 'evenly and rather thinly'.  How thin is 'rather thinly'? and in which direction should I be slicing?  Should I be slicing from the top down to make rings?  or sideways? I needed a photo to tell me.  There was no photo.  I ended up slicing it radially.  When the apples have been cooked in butter you are then instructed to 'arrange the apples in overlapping circles' on the pastry base.  How? How the hell do you 'arrange' one and a half pounds of cooked, limp, sliced apple into a 7" tin so it looks good. (Damn! Should have gone for the rings).  After a bit of faffing about I ended up with a vaguely symmetrical arrangement which wasn't too horrible.  The apples cooked well in the oven and came out slightly browned, but still in firm slices, not a mushed up and soggy pulp like so many apple pie recipes seem to do.

In the end I was glad there were no illustrations.  Food is too often about the presentation - what it looks like the moment it arrives at the table.  If there had been a super glossy, wonderfully lit, four colour photo of the finished product I may well have felt disappointed (or frustrated) that my effort didn't look like 'it should', that it wasn't 'perfect'.  Food should be about so much more than just what it looks like.  Elizabeth David may well have looked down her nose at my effort and pronounced it terrible,  but you know what?  I had fun making it  and, most importantly, there's none of it left.  We ate it all.  It tasted great.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Middle-Aged Nostalgia (With Technical Notes for Younger Readers)

I've said it before and I'll say it again. Loud and proud. I like Vinyl. I like big round black records that have been loved and played and had joints rolled on them, and lines snorted off them, and god knows what else done with them - I never thought of this before but it strikes me as amazing that no matter how utterly, incredibly gourdtwistingly stoned we got in the seventies we could always perform the complex task of changing records, and putting them back in their sleeves so they didn't get mashed up, without noticing we were doing it.
A lot of my misspent youth was spent sitting around playing music into the early hours of the morning getting stoned and talking about - whatever it was we talked about until the early hours of the morning. No idea any more. Whatever it was it was probably deadly urgent and earnest . Thatcher. The Miners. Chile. Freeing Nelson Mandela. Was the Anti-Nazi League really just a Militant front and, even if it was, should we still join? Should we go to Greenham Common? Yeah, I know I'm a bloke ... but ... okay, you go to Greenham Common, I'll stay here and ... erm ... stay in bed for the day?
Singles have been issued on various formats, including 7-inch (18-cm), 10-inch (25-cm) and 12-inch (30-cm) vinyl discs (usually playing at 45 rpm); 10-inch (25-cm) shellac discs (playing at 78 rpm) The most common form of the vinyl single is the 45 or 7 inch, the names are derived from its play speed, 45 rpm and the standard diameter 7″ (18 cm).
Singles were more fun than LPs. LPs had to be changed (or turned over) every 20 minutes or so - none of this putting your 28 TByte iPod Nano on shuffle and never listen to the same track twice till the battery runs down nonsense. Singles were hard work. Two or three minutes to choose something to be played next that would carry on the theme of whatever was playing at the moment. I don't know if this was universal, but there always seemed to be an incredibly complex set of unspoken rules about the rightness and wrongness of what could or should not be played. I never did understand all of them but rigorously enforced them all the same. The important thing though was that it was a concious effort to put on music. The decision had to be made, the record selected. The old record removed and the new one placed on the turntable, the correct speed selected,
Gramophone discs were manufactured with a range of playback speeds(from 16pm to 78rpm)
and the needle whacked back on the wax - without a horrible skidding screech or crash - before the mood has evaporated - slip the previous record back into its sleeve, and move aside as someone else says "Hey! I know what I want to listen to next!" and starts riffling through the records. It was a skilled job being a wastrel in the seventies. Actually I don't think we got as stoned as we thought we did. We didn't have time. Too busy changing records and making munchies.

Mind you, I do remember waking up on the kitchen floor one morning and listening to side one of Elvis Costello's Armed Forces repeating on the Dansette several times before I managed to summons up the energy to switch it off. It must have been on all night. Our neighbours must have really loved us.

This Very Model!

So, Vinyl, love the stuff. It's so cheap too. Charity shops round here are selling LPs off four or five for a quid. Often I buy them just for the cover art - or lack of it. There have been some seriously shit things done on the front of LP covers. I live in hope of finding something as compulsively horrible as this one which lurks somewhere deep in the depths of

Sunday, November 01, 2009

My Month in Movies ...


  1. Spiderman
    - Pizza night choice of daughter number one. First time I have seen it. Spiderman was never my favourite Marvel character - a lot to do with Steve Ditko's drawing - I never did like his stuff so I wasn't too disappointed. The kids loved it. I spotted continuity errors and enjoyed some of the character actors doing their thing; J.K. Simmons (whoever he be) was brilliant as the newspaper editor J. Jonah Jameson. Best bit of the whole movie.

  2. Queen of Outer Space
    - I love watching actors work. Even bad actors. And the best time to watch actors work is when they aren't saying anything, when they are reacting to what is being said, or when they are watching other people saying things. Cheap shoddily made films like Queen of Outer Space allow plenty of time to watch actors work because, for a lot of the time there isn't much else going on on screen. Actors willing, or forced by circumstance, to work in cheap low budget movies like this are cheaper than just about any other element of the film - except maybe stock footage. Special effects - even crappy ones - are labour intensive and expensive. Which is why I was overjoyed to suddenly find this piece of cockuppery in a piece of bilge that I know far too well for my own good.

  3. Devil Fish (MST3K)
    - "A shark... with tentacles!" That's about all you need to know really, isn't it?

  4. Charlotte's Web
    - I've never liked Charlotte's Web, too overly-sentimental for my taste. Mind you, I never read it as a kid and that often helps make childhood classic reading - er - classic. So I was not looking forward to this (it'll be bloody Heidi next, mutter, mutter ...) and the constant bloody Danny Elfmanesque music was driving me up the wall by the end of the first ten minutes, but some of the CGI was pretty good - actually some of it was pretty amazing if you stopped to think about it - and there was always the old standby of 'Spot the Voice' which can keep me entertained during the dullest of animated movies. What does it say about me that I recognised Steve Buscemi's voice but not Julia Roberts' or Robert Redford's? The end was vastly over-long. I just sat there for the last ten minutes willing it to end. "For god's sake stop milking it - the movie's over already." The end credits finally started to roll, I heaved a sigh of relief, Holly burst into tears - and so did I. (Almost.)

  5. Quest of the Delta Knights (MST3K)
    - David Warner - one of my favourite character actors, whose staggering workload of genius includes Tron, Time Bandits, Time after Time, and a gazzilion voice-overs pays the rent by playing three roles in a straight to video piece of historically confused junk which seems to have been filmed at a Renaissance Fair. It must be strange being a jobbing actor, one day you're playing opposite Steve Martin (when he was funny) in the Man With Two Brains, the next you are picking up an Emmy for playing a Roman in a miniseries, the day after that you are hiding behind a variety of bad, stick-on facial hair surrounded by a dozen or so extras trying to recreate a geographically woolly Dark Ages by sheer will-power alone - an effort doomed from the start by the costume designers letting anyone who had their own 'olden days' costumes turn up and be in the movie. "Vikings hat? Fuck yeah! you're in. Hey, Louis! There's a guy here with a viking hat. Shove him on a horse and give him gun will yah?" The only thing going for this movie were the heroine's tits which were shoved into one of those 'lift 'em up and wobble 'em' dresses Barbara Windsor always seem to wear in the 'historical' Carry-On movies. They were fun. Probably the only reason Warner took the part.

  6. The Screaming Skull (MST3K)
    - The movie opens on a shot of a coffin. A voice over by a Serious American Male: "The screaming Skull is a motion picture that reaches its climax in shocking horror, its impact is so terrifying that it may have an unforeseen effect. It may kill you. Therefore, its producers feel they must assure free burial services to anyone who dies of fright while seeing - The Screaming Skull!" The camera dollies in the the, now open, coffin which is empty save for a hand lettered sign: 'Reserved For You'.- Dramatic Music!

    I fell asleep.

  7. Mission Stardust
    - When I'm not watching unwatchable SF films I am quite often reading unreadable SF books - I'm especially fond of the execrable Perry Rhodan books. Mission Stardust (aka the usual shitload of names around the world) is the first, and sadly, last attempt to bring the character to the screen. I had heard of it's dreadfulness for years It is, I read, so dreadful that fans of the books deny its very existence. A movie so bad people who liked Perry Rhodan books thought it was crap? This was a movie I had to see!
    And now, thanks to the mighty power of the Interweb and unseen friends across the Atlantic I have, at last, watched it. It is as dreadful as I had hoped. I will have to watch it again and write more about it because it appears to be a woefully under-appreciated piece of Eurocheesyness (only 6 reviews on IMDb). The special effects were remarkably shoddy for a movie of the period - at one point the light from a descending model rocket casts shadows of the surrounding Lunar mountains onto the painted sky behind them. And I swear the 'rays' the aliens robots shoot out were made by scratching the emulsion off the negative. This looked crappy in the 1930s when Buster Crabbe zapped people with hand scratched zap rays in Flash Gordon serials. Deserves a closer, more detailed viewing. Watch this space - if you dare. Or watch it here if you dare. (It starts about 5 minutes in after a long montage of bits of other better films which you can easily skip without loosing anything.)

  8. Werewolf (1996)
    - Archaeologists (hah!) discover the skeleton of a werewolf in the Arizona desert. The film crew has no budget - though they did have at least on an arc lamp with a switch on it so lots of lightning but never any rain. The leading actors are both Germans pretending to be American; for both of them this is their 'other' movie (I have an IMDb listing longer than either star of this turkey). Highlights (and most of the on-screen budget) include:
    • An ancient Italian American security guard turning into a werewolf - while driving slowly past the same petrol station several times - before crashing into a sudden outbreak of middle of the highway, randomly placed oil drums full of explosives.
    • A lead actress who, struggling with her insufficient English, cannot say the word 'werewolf' the same way twice - even in the same sentence. The ability to say 'werewolf' convincingly should, I would have thought, been an prime asset in a film which is, for the most part, about wherevulfs. Whurwolfs? Wharwulfs? Worewolvs...?
    • A lead actor who presented with the task of transforming from vaguely symmetrical human being (as far as I could tell his only qualification for the part) to hideous hell beast (or at least the hairy teethy glove puppet shown in close ups) without the use of make up, choosing to writhe around and gurn on a bed like a constipated porn actor being told to fill in while his co-star goes for a pee. First year drama school stuff. "Now class, I want you to imagine you are bacon frying ... "

    And there's a 'twist' ending too! - pity it doesn't make any sense and its obvious from a mile away what it's going to be.

  9. The Thief of Bagdad (1927)
    - not The Thief of Bagdad (1940) which we had been expecting - damn Blockbusters! but both daughters, having got themselves into the frame of mind to watch an Arabian Nightish adventure, chose to watch a black an white silent epic with actors spending half of the time pointing wildly at the corners of the screen than something else more modern, in colour and with dialogue they didn't have to read off the screen. None of us realised it was two and a half hours long. One fell asleep, the other was hooked. Stunning sets - and Anna May Wong was lovely. "I think she is beautiful," as number one daughter kept saying. Mind you, she also said of some black actors: "I think they are African people, but I can't tell because it is in black and white."

  10. The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
    - What a quiet, restrained little movie this is. After watching far too many hysterical 1950s SF movies in which the 'World Communistic Threat' was thinly disguised as Aliens From Another Planet, either worming their invidious way into the vital bodily fluids of right thinking Americans, or rampaging, destroying and plundering property before being vanquished by the gallant Army, Navy, and Air Force - or assorted white coat wearing scientists - it was a pleasure to watch to see the other side of the coin for a change as a human like alien with a Message for all Mankind ("Stop with the bombs already or face certain annihilation from Higher Powers") is pursued and persecuted by the paranoia of the age. The Christian Allegory subtext isn't very far beneath the surface (the visiting alien calls himself 'Carpenter', is killed and resurrected before delivering his message, and then ascending to the heavens) but doesn't intrude.

  11. Bedtime Stories ( 2008 )
    - Meh Disney Family Movie which I watched with my family in a family way and we are all happy... I think I did laugh - once. Afterwards, as I thought about it, the movie really started to annoy me. Disney pride themselves on presenting a Family Values package. Good wholesome films that the whole family can enjoy together. Common values. So what do we learn about what Disney thinks America thinks it's okay to do in a family film? What do we learn from Bedtime Stories? The mother of the kids in this film is a hard working, single mom school principle who has to leave her two children in the care of her feckless brother for a few days while she attends an out of State job interview.
    We learn that's okay to ignore peoples' wishes when it comes to bringing up their kids. Especially when they are single mothers 'unable' to keep a husband. After all she doesn't really believe in what she's preaching does she? Even she doesn't like the healthy cake she made for the birthday party. All kids really need, according to this film, is to be fed hamburgers and watch TV - both things she is trying to avoid bringing into her children's lives. How cruel of her. How dare she upset the natural order of things by denying her children the God given right of every American child to be an unthinking overweight drone like all the others? How dare she not bring them up to be good Disney consumers? When the mother finds out about her brother breaking the house rules is she bothered? No. She's only upset that he told them there were no 'happy endings' in real life - the one thing that her brother did with which her character would have the least problem.
    We learn that it's okay to be rude to total strangers who not unreasonably are a bit miffed with you selfishly taking up two parking spaces for no good reason other than you're crap at parking.
    We learn that it's okay to steal. Our 'hero' steals, then trashes, a motorbike in the contrived and illogical climactic ending.
    We learn that it is okay to destroy other people's property and endanger their lives - our hero deliberately knocks over an advertising billboard onto an occupied car (driven by an innocent bystander*) while driving the stolen bike.
    We learn that education (past elementary school level) is a waste of time. The most highly educated character here is consistently the least happy, and the self-confessed illiterate ends up marrying an heiress.
    We learn that single parent families don't work and that as soon as there is a heterosexual couple within miles, children will go and live with them rather than their hard working, over educated, single mother.
    We learn that debilitating mental illness can be cured with a hug. One hug from Adam Sandler and Misophobic people rush off to become school nurses. Truly he is the chosen one! (Incidentally, what's a nice Jewish boy like Sandler doing promoting bacon?)
    We learn that Guinea Pigs are really carnivores. Even small South American rodents cannot resist the lure of Hamburgers apparently.

    * I know, if he was driving he couldn't be a bystander ... but you know what I mean.

  12. Succubus ( 1968 )
    - My first Jess Franco film. I'm really not sure what to make of it. Sort of like Federico Fellini crossed with Luis Buñuel with great dollops of Ken Russell thrown in for good measure. I adore Fellini, I'm new to the wonders of Buñuel, and I loathe Russell. I hope I learn to like Franco for no other reason than he has directed some 190 movies. Some great titles too: Vampyros Lesbos, Killer Barbys vs. Dracula, Naked Super Witches of the Rio Amore, and the immortal Two Female Spies with Flowered Panties. No idea what the films are like, but the titles are great.

  13. Fun With Dick and Jane (1977)
    - I've been wanting to see this again for years. I have fond memories of it. And for the last few of years I have been repeatedly disappointed as I keep thinking I have found it when all I have found is the remake with Jim Carrey. Today - Tad Dah! Morrison's cheapo bin rewards my diligence by turning up the George Segal, Jane Fonda original. And what a fun little movie it is.

  14. The Anderson Tapes (1971)
    - inevitably there is a remake in the pipeline.

  15. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
    - A second viewing for me. Not a Potter fan to start with I was less than bowled over on a second viewing. I got a bit of entertainment from watching the editing and spotting blunders (Harry P is at one point is - if his POV under the Cloak of Invisibility is to be believed - as tall as Professor Snape. Which he patently isn't.) and wondering why the owls in the movie were so damn loud! Owls are silent flyers. They have to be. They hunt small animals by swooping down on them unheard and, as my local National Trust naturalist pointed out - I do research this shit you know, they also rely on their hearing to locate their prey in the first place. The reason the owls in this movie were so noisy is that pigeons had been dubbed in over the top of them every time they spread a wing.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Spam Spam Spam

Orange - my ISP - has a very variable set of spam filters. Sometimes I get lots of spam, other times I get lots of spam helpfully marked ***SPAM***, other other times (but rarely) the filters actually seem to be working and I get no spam at all. At these times, as I hardly get any mail from anyone who isn't a robot, I think the internet is broken.

Recently I have been getting a lot of ***SPAM*** from 'Russian Dating Agencies'. I haven't opened any but I find it odd that Russians need dating. Every time I get one of these I have visions of an Antiques Roadshow type event where experts sit at tables as a stream of hapless hopefuls present them with Hairy Russian Peasants wrapped in old newspapers:

Interesting ... what we have here is a Sergei from the middle of the thirties. Nicely put together, a typically intricate design - a little worn on the corners here and there but nothing too excessive. I don't know if you have ever noticed, but if you put your finger here and push ... see, a hidden compartment.... Have you ever had him valued...?

Alternatively, if you can't get to an Antiques Roadshow type event where experts sit at tables, it is, apparently, quite simple to saw them in half and count the rings - though this does knock down the value considerably.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

As promised a few days back, here is another of Lidl's wonderfully strange cereal pockets.

I have no idea what this animal is supposed to be, is it a mongoose? a meerkat? a skinny red panda? Whatever it is supposed to be I have no idea why it appears so ecstatically eager to see a jugful of brilliant white emulsion paint being poured into a bowl of PseudoShreddies - and why is it wearing tartan braces? I mean this is one seriously deranged ferret here. I mean look at those rings around his eyes; this thing hasn't slept in a week. It doesn't need breakfast, it needs to go to bed! That or it thinks the white stuff being poured into the bowl is even more of the Columbian marching powder it's been stuffing up its nose for the past five days.

Why the tartan braces? Maybe it's the fifth (or probably sixth - I forget) Bay City Roller! Stig , the drummer they sacked in Hamburg. A cokehead psychotic Scottish mongoose reduced to posing for knock-off cereal packet covers. Why? Why would any product designer (even a German one) think this thing would sell breakfast foods to kids?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

I have two young daughters and I am far more familiar with the 'Disney Princesses' than any middle-aged man has any right to be. When I'm trapped into reading one of their asinine, anodyne, doe-eyed 'adventures' for one of my little darlings, the only thing that keeps me from throwing up is wondering how Aurora (That's the one on the left in pink) ended up wearing a chunk of Swiss cheese on her head.

The other princess huddle upwind of
Aurora's interestingly different headgear

Suggestions as to why Sleeping Beauty is wearing a slice of Emmentaler Cheese on her noggin, on a postcard please, to the usual address.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Annoying Cuteness of my Kids - No. 137

The other day Merriol and I were sat down in the living room by the girls and instructed to put some "forest music" in the CD player - not knowing what "forest music" might be I shoved in Grieg's Peer Gynt Suite. They didn't tell me to take it off, so I guess it was all right. The Girls then performed a play for us about a little boy (played by Holly) lost in a dark and spooky forest being befriended by a kind old man (Daisy with a painted on beard).

The highlight of the show for me was the moment when, reacting to the bit where In the Hall of the Mountain King suddenly gets louder, Holly cried out:

"What was that!?"

Daisy rushed to the 'window' of the Old Man's cottage:

"Oh! It's a herd of squirrels playing trombones!"

That's another piece of classical music I will never be able to listen to again without an image arriving fully formed in my head. Just like I can't hear Ride of the Valkyries without thinking of helicopters, The William Tell Overture without having the Lone Ranger gallop across my mind, or Carl Orff's O Fortuna without thinking of Old Spice wearing surfers, I will now never be able to listen to In The Hall of the Mountain King without a herd of trombone playing squirrels stomping into view.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Another Public Service Posting

I shop at Lidl's.

I'm not ashamed to admit it. Lidl's is cheap, doesn't play annoying musak at you while you shop and usually has the same things in the same places on the shelves most of the year round. They also have the best selection of fruit and veg in Fort William - which is a sad reflection on the Town which has spent years re-branding itself as the Outdoor Capital of the UK and succeeded to the point where the High Street has more winter sport clothing and mountaineering gear shops than most large cities.

There is precious little reason for any local to go down the High Street these days. 90% of the shops are either clothing shops of one kind or another (mostly Gortex stuff and hiking gear) charity shops, or pubs. It's insane that a town with a resident population of 10,000* has only two places to buy fruit and veg. Lidl's and Morrison's. Morrison's are crap. I have no idea what they do to their produce to make it rot so fast - sometimes fruit that looks perfectly good in the shop will have reduced itself to pulpy brown sludge by the time it's put in the fruit bowl a couple of hours later - and they vastly over package stuff. Shrink wrapped coconuts, that sort of thing. So that leaves Lidl. Which are not only cheaper but have real fruit and veg that hasn't been trimmed and wrapped in packs of six and quadrupled in price in the process. Sweetcorn 15p a cob, loose in a box, take as many as you want and if you want a bag go get one yourself. That sort of thing.

Right, rant over. To business.

Lidl also have some terrible package design. Just about everything in the shop is an 'own brand'. To disguise this fact and make the shoppers of Europe feel like they are browsing the shelves of a real shop with customer choice, teams of (presumably German) graphic designers have been beavering away for years making up faux brands to shove on the shelves of Lidls all over the continent.

Recently however they have either got themselves a new set of graphic designers, or started paying the the old ones more, because there seems to be a rolling design change affecting the store. All the labels are slowly being redone and improved. A lot of the old designs were great bits of Bad Art and need preserving before they are lost forever. Here are a couple of my favourites.

At first glance this carton of grape juice looks okay but after a few seconds it become apparent that the nice plump juicy grapes on the front are really clones. Look at the redder looking grape just under the Solvita logo, and then look at the grape lower down the carton next to the leaf on the left hand side. Same grape. Back to the top of the carton. See the two grapes to the right of the logo ... or the two to the left of the original one I pointed you at?
Lidl's graphic designers were working on such a tight budget they couldn't even afford a whole bunch of grapes to photograph!
"Helmut! What are you doing! Are you trying to ruin us! Take twelve of of them back and get a refund! We will Photoshop them. No one will notice ... "

Nothing too spectacularly dreadful here, no crappy Photoshoppery - apart from a bit of odd motion blur on the flying popcorn on the left - (presumably popcorn was cheaper than grapes) but it's the pseudo brand name that I find fascinating here. Charged with coming up with something quintessentially American, our crack team of Grafik-Designers came up with red, white and blue, stars and stripes, and the Statue of Liberty - three stripes and 171 stars, but who's counting?**. They also needed a name that would personify the USA - and thus was 'Mcennedy - American Way' born! 'Mcennedy'. It almost sounds right but isn't. It's like 'Kennedy' but ... isn't. It's just ... just ... wrong.

The Mcennedy 'brand' is stuck on anything vaguely non-ethnic 'American' in Lidl. To make it interesting sometimes the Statue of Liberty is holding her torch in her right hand (as above) and sometimes in her left ...

... forcing her to do a really weird back handed grip and probably dislocating her shoulder in the process. Poor old girl.

The breakfast cereals are a special treat though. Lidl's cereals - or at least the one we buy - are copycat clones of more famous and more expensive brands. This is the packaging for their version of Rice Crispies:

A bowl of motion-blurred, popping Rice Crispoids floating in that odd, super-white, non-wetting emulsion paint-like milk that only appears on the front of cereal packets, surrounded by a couple of weird Manga Lite Yoofyies doing 'hip' weird Manga Liteish things - like wearing gloves with only two fingers. I have stared at those gloves for years trying to work out why anyone, apart from an underpaid (possibly drunk) Grafiker who had once seen the back (or possibly front) cover of a Tokyo Mew Mew book, would think this could have been in any way, shape, or form, ever in the history of anything - 'cool'. Because that's what I think it's supposed to be. Cool.

"Hey mum look at the girl with the cool gloves on that cereal packet! "Can we have a packet of them, Mum can we, can we?"
These gloves have replaced The Flock of Seagulls haircut as the single most misguided attempt at 'coolness' in the history of Western culture.

Hmmmm, nice gloves ...

I'm going shopping in Lidl tomorrow so, unless they have replaced them already, keep your eyes on this space for the psychotic Scottish mongooses that appear on another of our regular purchases.

* It was 9,900 at the 2001 census - and god knows what the number gets up to at the hight of the summer tourist season but I would guess the population of the area will possibly double.

** Apart from me obviously.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

My kids talk. A lot. All the time in fact. Sometimes, as living proof of the validity of the Infinite Monkey Theorem, they say things which are variously scarily weird, funny, or just plain daft. Sometimes Merriol and I (but mostly Merriol) think to jot down the little darlings' pearls of surreal wisdom.

Daisy explains opera:
Daisy: "Opera just goes on and on until they get tired."

Holly: "No, Daisy, it's when they get sore throats."
Sometimes it's best not to ask:
"Mum! I need a hat and two chopsticks for something - an experiment."
Daisy sings a lot too:
Song: "My Love was in my heart - but then it walked away ... "
We have a lot of imaginary friends living in our house, each racks up dozens of birthdays a year. For some reason we are expected to do the catering:
"It's Tina's birthday party today and she wants ten thousand ... er ... ten thousand and ten ... er ... a hundred and ten ... a hundred and one. A hundred and one! That's how many sweets she wants and I can't count to a hundred and one -> sigh <- unless I start at a hundred. A hundred, a hundred and one, a hundred and two ... "
Holly and Daisy are in the middle of a game. Holly is pretending to be on the phone:
"What! Oh No! Okay, I'll tell her to be calm about it. Daisy? That was the doctor on the phone. He's coming round to take your leg off and and put another one in its place ... an artificial one."
Another Daisy song:
"Flying in the sunshine - woah! Who unplugged my plane stuck in the mud?"
Holly explains biology:
"The two boys and the girl (Smurfs) got married. So they are going to have lots of babies, eh? Two sperms!!"
Holly does religion:
"I prayed to G - O - D today to make midges vegitarians - they really annoy me."
Definitely don't ask:
"Mummy, can I get a calculator, and a laundry basket with holes in it? ... what? ... I NEED them!!"
Daisy told me she and her friends spent their break-times at school playing 'Supernoodle'. Like an idiot I asked what the rules were:
"The rules of Supernoodle are: you run around with a metal spoon with a plastic handle and you just run around like a loonican and shout "SUPERNOODLE"! That's all."
Holly (7) explaining Robin Hood to Eben (6 Months):
"Robin Hood gives to the poor; but if the poor have all the money he gives it to the rich."
I woke up this morning to this one. The kids are on the landing outside our bedroom watching early morning cartoons and getting incensed by the adverts for laser eye surgery:
Holly: "Three hundred and ninety nine pounds PER EYE! - That's more than a thousand pounds!"

Daisy: "I know."

She's right, they don't:
"Daisy, Dead Sea cucumbers don't fly."

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Here's One I Made Earlier - As Well

The new cover for the case.

All I have to do now is stick a bookplate inside it.

And Here is One I Made Earlier ...

I love my Sony Reader Touch (PRS-600), I do - I just wish it was a bit more like a book. It feels weirdly wrong reading something that you hold like a slice of toast that you are about to spread with jam.

What it needs is a front cover. You can buy cases for them which make them look more like a book, and have the added advantage of protecting the screen. Unfortunately they cost about £35 each - which I haven't got at the moment. Fortunately the Sony Reader Touch (PRS-600) turns out to be just a wee bit smaller in every direction than the inside of the average DVD case ...

... I've got a lot of them.

So this is what I spent this morning doing:

Materials: 2 DVD cases, black elastic, double sided tape, gaffer tape (duct tape).
Tools: Stanley knife, hand drill - 4mm & 2.5mm bits, needle & thread.

First catch your DVD cases. Find 2 DVD cases that have this kind leaflet holder clip inside the front cover; the ones without holes behind them. Most DVD cases seem to have holes and it took me about three minutes and twenty five DVDs before I realised that I didn't have to open the case and look inside it to find out what kind of case it was. Poking the front in the relevant place and seeing if there was any give behind the paper insert was a lot quicker.

Open the case, remove the DVD, replace the paper insert with a big bit of scrap paper. This is to stop the transparent outer sleeve from getting wrecked so wrap in right round and tape it in place. Snap or cut off the leaflet holder clips. Cut out the bit that holds the DVD in place. I slid a piece of thin aluminium between the case and the the transparent outer sleeve to stop me slicing into the outer sleeve and the family heirloom table I had decided to do this job on .

Mark where to drill all the interesting holes.

Use hi-tech 4mm hole boring device to make 4mm holes through the case into the piece of scrap wood that has replaced the piece of aluminium.

Drill More holes, this time 2.5mm in diameter, into the top and bottom of the outer edge (not the hinge side) of the back.

So they look like this:

Use a knife and/or needle files to turn these sets of holes into slots then thread some black elastic from the inside of the case, thread it behind, but NOT between the case and the transparent sleeve, it wants to go outside - and back in through the other slot. Pull tight then sew the ends together. This piece of elastic will snap round to the front and hold the case together.

Then, starting at one of the holes near the hinge side, thread more elastic in and out through all the 4mm holes. The photo I took of this looked really crappy - black on black, not good. Make sure the elastic doesn't get twisted, pull it tight, then overlap the ends and sew them together.

Cut the front off another DVD case and trim to 125mm x 185mm and stick strips of double sided tape top and bottom. This is going to fill the huge round hole in the back of the case.

Slide the back in between the transparent outer sleeve and the case and press in place. Doesn't matter if any tape is showing inside the case as the next thing to do is stick a strip of gaffer tape (duct tape) on the inside.

After that it's just a matter of slipping the reader into place ...

... and print off a fake cover of some terribly intellectual and weighty book to disguise the fact you are really reading Dan Brown or Clive Cussler.

Which will have to wait till tomorrow, because it's now stupidly late and I have to be up early in the morning getting the kids off to school - oh what fun we have.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Bad Acting 101

Lesson 27.

Dear JunkMonkey Institute for Bad Acting, I'm standing in a crappy flat set wearing a green SpaceBimbo mini-dress, surrounded by people wearing costumes left over from Forbidden Planet, and I'm wanting to upstage Zsa-Zsa Gabor. How do I do this?

Well, Lisa Davis, this one's easy. All you have to do is make sure you turn to look at someone who isn't speaking yet - anticipate her only line in the scene by a good six seconds. This will cause the actor standing behind you to turn as well when he thinks he's missed a cue. You can improvise after that. If you are good no one will notice what the other actors are saying at all.

Queen of Outer Space (1958)

Every Movie I have watched in September
  1. Gattaca (1997) - a decent bit of SF that eschews the usual running, shooting, and SFX and delivers an intelligent plot with some logically consistent twists. There are a couple of minor quibbles I have with it (why anyone would build a walk in incinerator you can switch on from the inside is a bit of a puzzle) but on the whole a pretty good effort.

  2. The Princess Bride - Friday night with the kids - and I wish I was still doing the Three Degrees of Kevin Bacon thing because the link between these two would have been so easy. How many movies are there that have six fingered characters in them?

  3. Alien Nation - formulaic mismatched buddy cop movie with a twist. One of them is an alien. Not badly done to start with but I started to loose it when our nasty villains throw one of the Aliens in the sea and he dies a horrible painful death. "Sea water's like battery acid to them!" I can't even start to work out the body chemistry of the aliens which allows them to get high on sour milk (pH of 4.4 - mild acid) but dissolve in sea water (pH 8 - slightly basic). Another oddity was the villain... and to explain the oddity you need to know the back story to the movie. Over to you Mr Wikipedia:
    "The movie is set in 1991, three years after a flying saucer bearing enslaved aliens (the "Newcomers") has crash-landed in the Mojave Desert. Los Angeles becomes a new home for the aliens, who take, or in some cases are assigned, sometimes comical human names (such as "Rudyard Kipling"). Now back to the JunkMonkey in the studio..."
    Thank you, Mr W. So. Quarter of a million aliens are processed through immigration and learn English with remarkable speed - the alien half of our hero partners (a demihero?) tells the human half he learned English in three months - they landed in America, they live in America. They have assimilated to American culture incredibly well in three years. Why then is the bad guy alien the only person in the whole movie who doesn't have an American accent - in fact he has a British accent? Answer: Because he is played by Terrence Stamp. And he's the villain. To the collective chicken brain that was running Hollywood at the time, all villains had British accents. Even ones that were supposed to be from a different species and have travelled untold light years to get here!

    I was just about to abandon Alien Nation when it abandoned me. Somehow I had managed to screw up the timing on the VCR and the tape ran out. The only reason it's in this list and not the 'Films I have abandoned for containing to much of the wrong kind of awful:' list is because the alien demi-hero was played by Mandy Patinkin who was in this evening's other movie, The Princess Bride. Serious Kevin Baconage going on here, and too much of coincidence to resist.

  4. Futuresport ( 1998 ) - In the future the biggest sport in the world will be Futuresport! A sport so futuristic it is played while wearing bicycle helmets! It's that futuristic. Wow! And the point of Futuresport will be to throw a small ball into a hole while people try to hit you with sticks - wait! no! The point of Futuresport will be to make Rollerball look good. No! wait... I've got it now, the point of Futuresport is that the world's best Futuresoprt player will solve the world's problems by challenging the evil Pan-Asian (non American) Conglomerate to a winner-take-all game - where the winner takes control of the disputed Hawaiian islands and millions of people won't have to die in a war! Hurrah for sport! Hurrah for Futuresport! We know the Pan-Asian (non American) Conglomerate is evil because they pay their hired goons in Euros! and have people with beards and English accents, and, even worse, Australians with visible metal plates in their heads working for them and - even even worse - they cheat! Boo! Hiss! But the good guys have an ace up their sleeve - Wesley Snipes in a Predator wig and a Jamaican accent! He knows how to cheat even better than the cheating foreign bastards because he invented Futuresport! Hurrah! - It's not about 'playing the game' apparently.

    When the best thing about a movie is Wesley Snipes taking off a pair of sunglasses (and accidentally looking like Whoopie Goldberg) you know you're in trouble. Total. Fucking. Crap.

    I'm tempted to go to Morrisons and ask for my quid back.

  5. Batman (1966) - I pulled rank on FridayNightisPizzaandMovieNight and made the kids watch it. Holly loved it. I win!

  6. Leolo (1992) - my habit of buying any VHS on the Tartan or Artificial Eye label that I come across pays off again. Leolo is a 1992 French Canadian movie that might have won the Palme d'Or if the director hadn't told one of the judges (Jamie Lee Curtis) that he wouldn't mind fucking her like the little boy in the movies fucks a pig's liver. I really don't know whether I really liked it or hated it. I laughed, I was repulsed, I was captivated by its beauty, and bored by its selfindulgence. A piece of Art, or a piece of Crap? Will I ever watch it again? I really don't know. I do know I won't forget it in a hurry.

  7. Dark City ( 1998 ) - Which looked even better on a second viewing (only partially because it was on DVD this time and not crappy old VHS). Annoyingly the DVD didn't have an option to avoid the opening narration - added at the chicken brain studio's insistence - which gives away 99% of the story before you get to the opening credits. So here is my usual Dark City caveat: If you have never seen it before, and you don't have the Director's Cut version which omits the narration, keep the sound muted until the opening credits. A crackingly good SF movie.

  8. Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006) - Will Ferrell - Comedy genius or not? Still haven't made my mind up. I do know though that Gary Cole is turning into one of my all time favourite character actors.

  9. The Card - Charming gentle little British comedy, based on an Arnold Bennet novel, which I dearly love.

  10. Time of the Apes (MST3K) - one of those dreadful Japanese Kids TV shows edited together by Sandy Franks to look like a movie. This time a blatant rip off of The Planet of The Apes with obligatory annoying Japanese child in shorts and lots of pointless running around and pointing. Fever-dream stuff.

  11. Tron - Again. For the umpteenth time. This time as a special birthday treat. Mrs JM booked the High School's auditorium and I get to watch it on the biggish screen with friends and relations - some of whom have never seen it before (and are bemused). I like Tron. It's a fascinating film. The story is pretty rubbish very simple (verging on the simplistic); it lends itself (if you could be bothered) to any number of interpretations: it's an allegory about belief systems, global capitalism, a reworking of the Frankenstein story with the creation becoming the master, a darn good chase movie etc... take your pick. The acting and direction are nothing much to get excited about , they're competent and serviceable - but the look of the thing, the style. I love it - mostly, as I have said before - and several times today to whoever would listen - it is because it was never copied.
    The Star Wars style was ripped off, copied, duplicated, and watered down by other jump-on-the-bandwagon film makers, and so merchandised to death at the time, and since, by George Lucas that the freshness, novelty, and sheer fun of the first film is unrecognisable now. It's been buried under millions of tons of over-priced cheap toys, tatty imitations, and huge bloated pre/sequels.
    Tron never suffered that fate. No other movies co-opted the Tron style. It is one of a kind. This is not to say the movie has not been influential; no one can read any cyberpunk without seeing that, but in movie terms Tron is a unique stylistic treat.
    It was sold at the time as being a major innovation, the first time computer graphics had been used in such a massive scale in a movie and some of the graphics are still amazing. But what struck me watching it today was that so much of the movie was made with traditional animation techniques - people at easels with paper ink and airbrush. In 1982 it was still easier faster (and therefore cheaper) to paint backgrounds by hand to look like computer images than it was to make the computer images themselves. Things that I can do on the desktop computer with Photoshop in minutes were beyond their budget. The actors were Rotoscoped into the backgrounds by hand - a phenomenal amount of man hours - according to Wikipedia 500 people worked on post production including 200 inkers and hand-painters employed in Taiwan. There is a sequel in the pipeline. I'm not looking forward to it. Computer animation has become so commonplace that whatever they do it is going to look like just another movie.
    Though, if they get a decent story this time....

  12. The Dish - It's the first moon landing. Neil Armstrong is about to set foot on the moon and it's windy in Australia - and that is about as exciting as this movie gets but jeso this is a great movie. I was in tears at the end of it. I was watching people sat watching a historical event on the telly and I had tears streaming down my face. I have no idea how or why this film works but it does. I think a lot of it has to do with the sound. The sound is wonderful, sometimes you are simultaneously listening to two or three things - in addition to the general background atmos: overlapping dialogue, archive news coverage, music and each layer of sound is telling you things and feeding you the story. It's wonderfully rich. And very funny.

  13. Stranded in Space (1972) MST3K - very not good TV movie pilot, for a never to be made series, in which an astronaut finds himself trapped on Earth's evil twin. Having a planet of identical size and mass orbiting in the same plane as the earth, but on the opposite side of the sun, is a well worn SF chestnut - the idea is over 2,000 years old, having been invented by the Ancient Greeks. In this version the Counter World is run as an Orwellian 'perfect' society. Where for totally inexplicable reasons everyone speaks English and drives late model American cars. After escaping from his prison-like hospital, the disruptive Earthian is chased around Not Southern California by TV and bad movie stalwart Cameron Mitchell who, like his minions, wears double breasted suits and black polo neck jumpers - a stylishly evil combination which I fully intend to adopt if ever I become a totalitarian overlord. Our hero escapes their clutches several times before ending up gazing at the alien world's three moons and wondering aloud if he will ever get home - thus setting up one of those Man Alone in a Hostile World Making a New Friend Each Week but Moving on at the End of Every Episode shows so beloved of the industry in the 70s and 80s (The Fugitive, The Incredible Hulk, The Littlest Hobo etc.). The curiously weirdest bit was the title sequence. Somewhere between Stranded in Space first airing (under the title The Stranger) in 1972 and the MST3K version in 1991 it had somehow acquired footage from the 1983 movie Prisoners of the Lost Universe. So in 1991 the opening credits for 'Stranded in Space' ran under a few shots of three people falling into a matter transmitter and vanishing. It's a sequence that has nothing to do - even thematically - with anything that is going to follow. Just to add to the nerdy B movie confusion, one of the actors in this randomly nailed on footage is Kay Lenz who later appeared in a 1994 movie called Trapped in Space. Knowing this fact could never save your life, but it might score you very big points and admiring looks from fellow trash movie enthusiasts - if you could ever work out a way of manoeuvring the conversation round to the point where you could casually slip it in without looking like a total wanker...

    As an example of the shoddiness of the show: play was made of the fact that on this counter clockwise Counter Earth most of the people were Left Handed! (How scary weird and evil is that!) But quite why an alien planet full of left handed people wrote (in English) from left to right, instead of right to left which they would have found a lot easier to do, is never explained.

  14. Earth Vs The Spider ( 1958 ) MST3K - one of those Cold War paranoia movies that isn't anything to do with the Cold War - or paranoia. Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Thing, Invaders from Mars and even I Married a Monster from Outer Space can be seen to be reflecting the mood and preoccupations of America in the late fifties early sixties - the fear of Atomic War, and the overwhelming conviction that there was a Commie spy under every bed. Earth Vs The Spider has nothing to do with any of that. Like most of Bert I Gordon's movies it's about jumping on the bandwagon and making money quickly by showing people running away screaming from something very big before the hero manages to electrocute it in the final reel. This one is shoddier than most of Gordon's Giant Things Chasing People movies and even manages to namecheck a couple of his other works - The Amazing Colossal Man and The Attack of the Puppet People - by having one of his characters work in a cinema which, by some amazing coincidence, only seems to show Bert I Gordon movies. When Preston Sturges managed to sneak in a poster for one of his other films at the end of Hail the Conquering Hero it was knowing and funny - here it was just pathetic and cheap. But then the whole of Earth Vs The Spider is pathetic and cheap - for 'Earth' read a small Californian town for 'Spider' read - well a spider, some hapless hairy spider shot in close up and superimposed on streets and roads as the script required. This movie contains some dreadful dreadful matte (or forced perspective) work as various characters wander round a darkened studio with decoupaged pictures of caves cut from the National Geographic Magazine held up in front of the camera for them to walk past. 5.6 on the Dreadfulometer. Extra points for having a 35 year old man with a receding hairline playing a teenager.

  15. My Fair Lady - Holly's love of Hollywood musicals surfaces again. But I had forgotten it was almost three hours long! God there's a lot of songs in it. I was still awake enough at the end of it to spot a hitherto unreported (on IMDb at least) continuity error - In the final scene when Henry Higgins sits on the chair as he listens to her voice on the phonograph, Eliza's shadow can be clearly seen on the carpet behind him, to his left (screen right). In the next shot she is shown entering the room. Hurray for me! ( I know.... ) Four days later Holly interrupts us long-windedly asking her about something (but without giving her the chance to answer) by declaiming, like Mr Dolittle in the film: "I'm willing to tell you. I'm wanting to tell you! I'm waiting to tell you!"

  16. Anchorman - Okay, that's me Will Ferrelled for the next few years. I think I just reached saturation point.

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