Wednesday, February 17, 2010

My sense of humour seems to be waking up after its long winter's nap, which is good. I've been drawing a few cartoon ideas for the first time in ages. They'll get better.

Monday, February 08, 2010

The Following Post Contains Pictures of Naked Breasts and Too Many Princess Leahs

Double feck with sprinkles! So much for my heartfelt promise to blog more often. What's that? twice this year so far? Not good enough, Baldwin, not good enough at all. ..

Hmmm. What pathetic excuses can I find for this lack of bloggery... Merriol has gone back to work... Eben is getting more active (he's ten months old now and starting to want to explore everything)... I got paid to do a job... (Okay it was only three days but the principle counts)... my dog ate the modem...? Pathetic - no excuses at all.

Over the past few days it's been rearranging the bedroom that has occupied a lot of our time. Merriol and I have a king-sized bed. It's fine with just the two of us in it but when the kids decide that they can't sleep or need a cuddle they climb in too and before you know it Merriol and I are clinging to the edge, freezing cold, trying not to fall out as they claim squatters' rights on the nice warm bit in the middle. We are not alone, all parents go through this, well those who don't padlock their bedroom doors do. Not that we have a bedroom door yet. Another 'thing I must get round to making one day'. Last week Merriol came up with the genius solution to the problem; we've turned the bed sideways. We now sleep across the thing. It's a wee bit short and it felt a bit odd the first night not being able to stretch right out without your feet dangling in mid-air but three nights in and I don't notice. The kids easily fit in the extra space between us. They could play football and we wouldn't notice.

I've also been regretting not doing any cartoons recently. I've had a few ideas but nothing that has screamed out to be done and I've got rusty on Illustrator. I have opened it up and started a couple recently but I can't remember how to drive the damn thing. Too many whistles and bangs. Not enough short-term memory. To remind myself of what all those fucking buttons actually do I've invented the Society for the Promulgation of Fictitious Books and have been messing about making dust wrappers for books that don't actually exist. Here's the first two old penguin editions of books previously only though to exist with in the pages of another book.

The Grasshopper Lies Heavy by Hawthorne Abendsen
The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism by Emmanuel Goldstein

Give yourself a pat on the back if you can tell me which books they come from. (Answers are possibly upside down at the bottom of this post.) Out of sheer badness I plan on printing these out and wrapping them around any suitably sized books I swap on Readitswapit. Next up will be The Protocols of the Elders of Tralfamadore by Kilgore Trout. (And I know the price on the pelican is wrongly aligned. It's fixed now.)

  1. Battlefield Earth (2000) - John Travolta's vanity project adaptation of L Ron Hubbard's 'Saga of the Year 3000'. (Things can only get better.).

    There is so much wrong with this movie it's hard to know where to begin...

    Battlefield Earth (for 'Earth' read 'North America') is set 1000 after the alien Psychlos have invaded and reduced Humans to a stone-age primitivism. Man, we are told is 'an endangered species'. Playing for the most part like a reworking of Planet of the Apes with the aliens standing in for the Apes, Battlefield Earth is stuffed full of cringeworthyness, from Travolta's towering, Shatneresque performance as the villain - his drunk scene is especially hilarious - to the high quality writing:

    "While you were still learning how to spell your name, I was being trained to conquer galaxies!"

    to the wonderfully crap, underachieving technobabble: 'Picto Cameras' and 'Compu-gradients' being my favourites. In the Olden Days, when SF was still "That Buck Rogers crap", writers were paid by the word. Stories weren't edited before they were published; they were weighed. It made sense for crap writers banging out a couple of thousand words a day, page turning tripe to stuff as many 'Syntho Caffs', 'Nicto Smokes', and any other 'Device O-matics' as they could get in. 'Syntho caff' paid twice as much as 'coffee' and sounded futuristic too!" but in 2000 there is no excuse. No excuse at all.

    The movie also celebrates the North American male's innate mastery of complex pieces of weaponry - one minute our bunch of stone-age primitives are having trouble grasping the concept that the lines on a map aren't actually drawn on the ground ("Maybe they've faded after a thousand years...") and, a few days later - I wish I were making this up - are flying Harrier Jumpjets like Gulf war veterans and arming atomic bombs. Admittedly they didn't figure out how to fly the Jump Jets and arm the bombs all by themselves; they found the manuals and a flight simulator first - but wow! do the US army build stuff to last, or do they build stuff to last? After lying about for a millennium, everything is in perfect working order - and still plugged into the mains. Which still works! Even the slide-projector containing the vital missing document is still ready to be fired up at the probe of an inquisitive finger.

    This must also be one of the few mainstream American movies to feature a suicide bomber as a hero.

    After watching it I started to read the book... it's worse.

  2. Blood of Dracula's Castle (1969) - An early Al Adamson and surprisingly coherent for one of his movies. Not that I'm saying it's good, it's dull, barely watchable but it's the least bewildering of his movies that I have seen so far with a couple of almost interesting shots.

    A young couple inherit an old castle (in California!?) with sitting tenants: Count Dracula, Mrs Dracula, a hunchback assistant, a creepy butler (John Carradine - hurrah!) and their resident escaped homicidal maniac played by the maniacally wooden Robert Dix. The script tries for comedy from time to time and fails then actually manages to lap itself at one point as an exchange between the Count and his victims is repeated almost verbatim a few minutes later in a different location. The climax, where the vampires are exposed to the sunlight and expire, is a classic. Tied to chairs they suffer the indignity of having their demise described by the hero and his girlfriend because there wasn't enough money in the budget to do ANY special effects at all at this point.

    Exterior shot of a sunrise.
    Cut to:

    Our hero and heroine looking on aghast:.

    Heroine: .
    Look - they're getting old.....

    Yuh... They must be several hundred years old... .
    It must be the blood that's kept 'em this young....

    Cut to:

    An over-long shot of the hunchback assistant lurching up the papier-mâché stairs from the papier-mâché dungeon.

    Cut to:

    A closer angle of the hero and heroine:

    They're gone!.

    Turned to... dust.....
    Cut to:

    The count's and countesses' clothes sat in their chairs with a thin scattering of fag ash over the front..
    Not only did they crumble to nothing off-screen but they did it while the camera was in another room!

    After that all that remains is getting chased by the hunchback, shooting him three times from point blank range before throwing the prop gun in his face (this incidentally seems to cause more pain than the .45 slugs to the belly). Then, after he catches them and whacks the hero unconscious ("Throw rubber guns at me will yah! Take that!"), we get to watch for a while as the girl beats helplessly against his back as he drags her off (she looks like she plays a mean set of bongos) He ties her to a post and douses her with petrol. Our hero wakes from his stupor whacks him in the back with a handy double-bladed axe (always surprising what you find lying around on Californian hillsides) which sticks out of the hunchbacks back (or rather the very obvious chunk of board under his tunic) like a joke-shop gag. The hero douses him in petrol, sets fire to him, and then pushes him off a cliff - not that anyone cares because, hard as it is to believe, all of that was so BORING! - apart from watching the board that the axe was stuck into wobble about, that was mildly interesting for a few seconds.

  3. Swamp Thing (1982) - part of my ongoing on / off project to see every movie with the word 'Thing' in the title (there are 340 odd listed on IMDb) Swamp Thing is an adaptation of the DC comic of the same name, it stays fairly close to the original as I remember it and is just plain dull. Nice photography; swamps have never looked prettier. Lots of sunlight. Trouble was that, because it was so light, it made the Swamp Thing (I think I love you...) look very tatty (there was a rip in the back of the costume and during some shots you could see the actor was wearing jeans underneath). It did get a cinema release but the yellow lettering on the opening titles made me suspect the producers expected it to be on TV PDQ. Though I guess the scene where Adrienne Barbeau indulges in some Health and Efficiency type nude bathing didn't make it to the local cable stations.

    "La la la - I'm having a bath  - la la la -  ignore the film crew... "
    First gratuitous boob shot of the New Year as Adrienne Barbeau tries not to notice
    that the film crew is twice as big as it was during the mornings' shooting.

    Incidentally this woman's clothes dry in seconds. She gets thrown into the water quite often during this movie (no bad thing in itself) and within seconds of her emerging onto the river bank and as she runs away to be rescued once again by the not very mysterious Swamp Thing (but I want to know for sure....), her clothes are suddenly and miraculously only wet from the ankles down.

    Edit: Turns out that this was quite an expensive boob shot. Sometime in 2002, twenty years after the film was made, a woman in Texas called Mary Dorflinger rented the DVD of this film from Blockbusters for her nine year old son. She was shocked and horrified to find him seeing tits on the screen. Oh My God! TITS! Rampaging monsters, mercenaries machine gunning each other to death, women being shot in the back, and stabbed in the chest (not at the same time obviously), people being poisoned, and murdered on a whim was apparently okay for her nine year old son and friend - but a nice pair of knockers! Filth! Filth! MGM and Blockbuster recalled the movie. Contemporary News report.

  4. Pitch Black ( 2000 )- Rather better than I was expecting. Still total nonsense though.

  5. Dante 01 ( 2008 ) - nowhere as good as I was expecting and total bloody nonsense. A shuttle arrives at an orbiting prison ship (and there's one of my major SF movie 'oh-oh!'s right there. Name one (just ONE!) even half-way decent SF movie set in an off-world penal institution - go on....)

    I can wait...

    Anyway, on board the shuttle is a lady scientist and an almost catatonic prisoner. The lady scientist is there to test some super-dooper nano-tech DNA fixing gunk on disposable convicts, the prisoner is there to turn into a Christlike redeemer when the prison ship starts to plummet towards the hell-like planet below them (the 'Dante' of the title). For some unexplained reason, the director of the prison ship has given one of the inmates unfettered access to the ship's computer system. Including his password. Needless to say giving criminally insane suicidal computer geniuses complete access to the ship's computer system turns out not to be the brightest thing to have done. Type type type, overide overide, maniacal laughter - and the spaceship is plummeting to a fiery doom - and the only way to overide his overides is through a wee hatch in the prison quarters that leads to a cooling duct! (at this moment I want you to go here and press the button) ... blah, blah, blah anyway, they can't get to the big red button they have to push to save themselves.

    At this point our new prisoner, fed up with mumbling about 'The Light' and bringing fellow prisoners back from the dead (not to mention getting himself killed and bringing himself back to life) puts on a spacesuit, gets between the suspiciously cruciform hurtling space prison, holds out his arms and does something painful with a lot of special effects lights shooting out of his heart and aaaaa-aaaaaah! girly choir singing and the special effects get faster and faster and go round and round and everyone gets really excited till there is an orgasmic explosion of light and noise - and LO! the hell world of Dante is lush and earth-like and (maybe) LO! the spaceship isn't hurtling towards it any more and (presumably) LO! everyone was spared - or at least spared long enough to record some portentous voice over - in French. For LO! this was a French SF movie which brings me to 'Oh-oh!' number two. Name one! (ONE!) decent French SF movie (apart from La Jetée, Alphaville, Farenheit 451, Barberella, La Planète Sauvage, Le voyage dans la lune, La cité des enfants perdus, Delicatessen... - oh bugger! )

    Dante 01 is Marc Caro's first solo directorial gig. Caro co-directed, with Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the joyfully dark La cité des enfants perdus (1995) and the even joyfully darker Delicatessen (1991). Jean-Pierre Jeunet also directed Amélie. My money is on Jeunet being the one with the sense of humour and Caro the one with his head up his arse.

  6. Quintet (1979) - Robert Altman, there's a real movie director for you. An 'auteur' even. A real grown up director. Fucking Art innit?! The things that I findirritating on screen, the things I nitpick about and annoy the people who try to watch movies with me are those moment where the writer,director, set-designer, on screen caterer, or whoever, doesn't think it through to the end and, by a single act of omission - or commission - undoes all the other work done by everyone else who has worked on the movie. That moment of "Wait a bloody minute.... What just happened?" that stops the narrative dead in its tracks. (Not that this film's narrative needed a lot of stopping, because anyone who has ever seen it will know that Quintet's narrative drive has pretty well frozen solid before the end of the opening shot.) There are several of those moments in this movie. And you get so long to think about them too. The film is two hours long and the scripted dialogue probably ran to five pages. There's a lot of time to ponder its deficiencies.

    The movie is set in a frozen Earth. Another ice age has set in and the whole world is dying. It's cold. Very cold. It's actually very cold on the screen. The movie was shot in Canada in winter and there are

    icicles and real snow and people's breath misting from their mouths in every scene. Time and again we are reminded how fecking cold it is. People wear big hats and layers and layers of clothes and waddle around like over-dressed Weeble people. Must have been a horrible shoot. My nitpick comes in a sequence when our hero checks into a room of a hotel. Woken up in the middle of the night by voices coming from the room next door, he overhears a conversation of vital importance to the meagre plot through an large grill in the wall dividing the two rooms.

    I'm not questioning why there is a convenient grill in the wall between the two rooms. What got me annoyed was the fact that the grill had not been blocked up by the long term tenant with the noisy visitor. If you are trying to keep warm the last thing you need is a huge gaping hole in your wall that leads into an unoccupied unheated room. Trust me. I live like this, I watched this film sat on my living-room sofa under a duvet with a hot water bottle. My breath was misting as much as the actors'. If that whacking great hole was in my wall I'd block it up with something. Maybe not the best choice of movie to watch in an unheated room in midwinter but boy did it make me notice the lousy insulation in the film.

  7. Frankenstein Meets The Space Monster - aka Mars Invades Puerto Rico (and others). After the crushing bore that was Quintet some quality crap. Almost Ed Woodian ( Woodlike? Woodonian? Woody?) in it's use of stock footage. I've never seen a movie that actually used stock footage out-takes before; those bits of NASA footage of chutes opening - eventually, and rear views from blasting-off rockets where nothing is happening because nothing has happened yet.

    "Scramble all jets!" barks someone down the phone in a military manner. Note the word 'all' there - three weeks after shooting finished the following conversation was secretly taped in the editing room:.

    - Hey Boss!
    - Yes?
    - Dis stock footage you bought, it ain't no good.
    - Why?
    - Well dere's all sorts of different planes in it see. Look. Here's these guys getting into the planes ...
    - The pilots?
    - ... er yeh, them. Well, look; they get in these planes with the holes in the front - and then the planes that is takin' off have got pointy noses and shorter wings! They're different. Then these planes on this reel - the ones shooting the rockets - they's different again.
    - That's why I had the General say scramble all jets, Chico.
    - Oooooh! You sure am smart, boss.
  8. The Lost Missile ( 1958 ) - More stock footage. I suspect this film has the largest stock to new footage ratio of any movie I have seen yet. It's incredible. There's stock footage of planes taking off from runways, civil defence exercises, lots of radar dishes (they were very fond of radar dishes in SF movies of this period for some reason) lots and lots of footage of military types passing each other bits of paper and punching numbers into electronic brains. The plot: an alien missile is circling the earth at a hight of five miles scouring a five-mile wide path of destruction below it. Everything gets wiped out by its millions degree radiation heat. Nothing can stop it. Hundreds of jet planes try to shoot it down but nothing can stop it, it relentlessly continues on its way, heading at 4000 miles an hour towards New York. Evacuate 8 million people in under an hour! It can't be done! Ottawa gets even less time and is destroyed. If only the government's latest nuclear warhead missile can be launched in time! The chief scientist sacrifices himself, dying of radiation poisoning to make sure the bomb is loaded. The missile is launched and blows up the alien with 20 seconds of the film's running time left. Somewhere. Somewhere beneath all the stock footage and clumsy direction is a possibly decent little movie trying to get out. The aliens are never seen. We don't know who they are, where they have come from, or even if the ship is piloted. It may just be a drone - someone on IMDb suggested that this is an early example of a Berserker. The narration in the movie is downbeat. The briefly sketched in personal stories are well sketched in and the characters are better drawn than the routine. There's some okay writing going on here. The movie is not afraid to kill people - the hero dies! - characters are introduced and killed. Cute family in the snow building a snowman. Little girl points up at a light in the sky. Daddy, what's that? Run! Blinding light! They all die. People huddle panic stricken in cellars - and die! It's a trick Erwin Allen and the disaster movie fad were to use again and again. It almost works. But every time it does - the relentless stock footage... oy! give us a break! One jet aeroplane taking off I can watch, two okay... but nineteen? Nineteen starts to look like padding.

  9. The Time Guardian (1987) - I'm sure The Time Guardian made some sort of sense to someone somewhere at some point in the production process but by the time it got to my VHS player it was an unholy incoherent mess which made no sense whatsoever for nearly all of its running time. The movie 'stars' Dean Stockwell and Carrie Fisher in minor supporting roles that each could have been shot in a day (and I suspect Stockwell's was, consisting as it did of three or four scenes of him shouting at people in an unconvincing manner and then pressing a big red button). Carrie Fisher on the other hand gets to snarl with Princess Leah like disdain at someone who wishes he had the charisma of Han Solo's jockstrap, and wear a skin-tight silver top looks like it's been sprayed on - and for a moment the film got interesting. But only for a moment. Other than that one scene it is utter and incomprehensible garbage. Everybody shouts and snarls and is incomprehensibly mean to each other for no other reason than try and generate some 'drama' out of the confusion. The plot (as far as I could make it out) concerns a time-travelling city that is being pursued by evil cyborgs. Our hero accidentally blows off one of the legs of the city so they have to stop in the Australian outback in 1988 for repairs and a final showdown with the bad guys. Our hero goes ahead back in time (I'm really not sure what tense to write this in) to get a bulldozer to build a big mound to prop up the broken leg when the city arrives. (I'm not making this up, honest!). The bad guys show up. The local cops are corrupt and stupid, the local geologist is a girl with nice legs. In the end, in a flurry of poorly-executed clichés, the hero pulls out a big shiny, hitherto unmentioned, bit of the city's time travel device, points at the bad guys and they all vanish.

    This is not a bad film - this is a very bad film.

    The Italians made better SF films than this. The most horrible thing though is that the script was (in part) by John Baxter, a real SF writer. It was his only screenplay.

  10. Alien Private Eye (1987) - Another one to treasure. Another 10p well spent in the Videos Nobody Wants pile at the local charity shop. And I'll think I'll hang onto this one; it's a cracker. A brilliant collection of bad non-actors with mullets taking it in turns to deliver - lines - I can't call it 'dialogue', it's just words. Written, directed, cast and produced by someone crediting himself as 'Viktor' and starring a bunch of nobodies (including someone called Nur Nur Cummings who, for some unknown unexplained reason - other than maybe to work in a couple of very lame Maltese Falcon references - did his part while doing a very bad, very variable, Peter Lorre impression). A Grade A Mess. I really can't work out how this got onto my TV screen. I really can't see how anyone down the long chain of producers, buyers, VHS distributors, rental companies etc. thought they were going to make any money out of this. I can only assume that the whole process got reversed somehow and the money went the other way, ending up with the people taking the video home from Blockbusters being paid to watch it. (Or at least take it home for the night.)

  11. Princess of Mars (2009) - I suspect the only good thing to be said about this film is that for years those weird women who turn up at SF and comic conventions dressed like this:


    will suffer the constant humiliation of being asked:

    "Who are you meant to be then? Princess Leah or Deja Thoris from that crappy movie with Traci Lords?":


    Apart from the one at the back dressed as Tank Girl. I think she's safe.

  12. Nothing Sacred - William Wellman's classic 1937 satire (written by Ben Hecht) of newspaper exploitation. Not as funny as I remember it, though little is these days.

  13. Meet The Robinsons (2007) - Horribly overly-cute "Hey look at us! We're being whacky!!!!!" Disney SF which with less stuff thrown at the screen would have been so much better. The baddy was fun.

  14. Weekend (1967) - Godard. French bloke, made films. Very important avant garde films. When I am reincarnated I want to be Godard. 90 minutes (You mean it wasn't three hours!) of painfully slow tracking shots and people shouting radical polemic while off-camera. I can do that. Give us a job! I had great fun watching director Mike Figgis, on one of the extras on the Artificial Eye DVD, saying nothing for 30 minutes. He was talking about Godard and his importance in the great scheme of things, he was using lots of words that sounded great and was very fluent and eloquent on his subject - but saying nothing. It was mesmerising. (Well the first half was then I got bored of being mesmerised and turned off. The second half may well have been very interesting. I doubt if I will ever find out though.)

  15. The Core (2003) - Well that was pretty by the numbers. Popcorn SF with some laughably bad science. I've seen worse. Great chunks of it looked vaguely familiar which puzzled me for a while until I realised that the underground boring sequences were the 'inspiration' for much of the crappy version of Journey to The Centre of the Earth I watched recently.

  16. Frau Im Mond (1929) - Two years after Metropolis, Fritz Lang turned another of his wife's SF novels into a bum-numbing three hour movie. Not as extraordinarily wonderful as Metropolis but still pretty damn good for an SF movie of that era - once you settle into the slow pace and get past stylised acting. Watching it I realised people don't act with their hands any more. In the silent era there was a whole language of gesture that has totally vanished. It's redundant. It became redundant as soon as the talkies came in. It's very beautiful to watch though, and I'm not sure I understand it all. There's one moment in this where the villain played by the incredibly villainous Fritz Rasp, having found the gold, stops himself from becoming over excited by placing the fingertips of his right hand on the inside of his left wrist, almost as if he is taking his own pulse. I have no idea if this was a convention of the silent acting style, of a popular health fad technique of the time, or something Rasp or Lang came up with on the set but it was strangely effective. I knew what he was doing with a single simple gesture. (Rasp is great. I've never come across him before and he steals the first half of the film. The moment where he transforms into disguise on camera is sheer bloody genius and worth the price of admission alone - one of those real 'how did they do that?' moments.)

    The launch sequence is wonderful and, as far as anyone can make out, the first time a countdown was used in a rocket launching.

ǝlʇsɐɔ ɥƃıɥ ǝɥʇ uı uɐɯ ǝɥʇ s,ʞɔıp ʞ dılıɥd ɯoɹɟ sı ,uǝspuǝqɐ, ǝɥʇ
ɹnoɟ-ʎʇɥƃıǝ uǝǝʇǝuıu s,llǝʍɹo ɯoɹɟ sı ,uıǝʇsploƃ, ǝɥʇ

Missing CD? Contact vendor

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in removing from cover.

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

(this copyright notice stolen from

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