Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Happy End Of The Year Show

Ring the bells, deck the halls and let the celebrations commence! It's a day for jubilation. Yes, I've made it to the end of Blog Month and have posted a blog every day*. Oh yeah, and it's New Year's Eve or something apparently, too.

So what has 2008 taught me? What lessons have I gleaned from the last 366 days**?

- That regular and frequent sex is great fun but I still very much enjoy being single too
- Weddings have become extremely popular all of a sudden - going to six in one year must be some sort of record
- Internet dating is kind of rubbish and a bit on the dispiriting side
- Music videos are fun to make, especially if they involve dancing, puppets and puppets dancing
- Films are still great
- As are comics
- Oh, and cartoons, too
- That I've rediscovered an urge to write, even if it is mainly blogs instead of fascinating stories and scripts (baby steps, baby steps)
- That having a bigger team of people to work with makes for a much more stress-free time, especially if you really enjoy working with them
- That I should stop starting sentences with "that"
- And that life, in general, is a very good thing and I have very much enjoyed it this year in stark contrast to last year (my "Horrible Anus" as the Queen would say or something like that).

So what does next year hold. Well, I don't know. No one does, do they? That's kind of how the future works. All I do know is that I'm ready for it - eyes open, arms wide and legs akimbo. Come on, The Future, give me what you've got!

* OK, so we've established that I didn't write a blog every single day, having prepared some in advance on a couple of days but it's still a post every day...

** Yep, it was a leap year, remember? I was at a wedding on February 29th - that's genius, they only have to remember their anniversary once every four years.

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Trivial Fluff?

No, it's not the name of an exciting new board game combining general knowledge questioning with felt-based activities*. It's more of a general feeling that my blogging activities are tending to be somewhat on the trivial and inconsequential side. Now, before I go on, I need to add that I'm acutely aware of falling into a trap which can befall many an unsuspecting blogger - that of the self-pitying whine. That really isn't the tone I'm aiming for here and feel free to inter-slap me round the chops if I do stray down that path. No, it's more reflective, in that I've recently been reading more and more blogs on this here site and there are a lot of people out there who have genuinely interesting things to say and raise some good questions that don't always have easy answers. Should I pick up my game and strive to be a better writer?

I guess the easy answer is "Yes". It's always an admirable aim. Striving for self-improvement is never a bad thing and, if the works of others encourage you to do so, then so much the better. The problem for me is that I'm a startlingly ill-informed person. I could tell you all manner of facts about old film comedians, superhero comics, stop-motion animation, Japanese monster films, foam puppetry and all manner of random randomness but basic things? Everyday finance, history and current affairs, fairly standard geographical knowledge, politics? Not a clue, squire (other than the nuggets I've picked up through numerous pub quizzes). I guess I've always found that the real world is generally an incomprehensible and scary place and prefer to escape to worlds fictional.

But, as someone who aspires to being a writer, I should be better informed. The old maxim of "write what you know" generally does hold true so, logically, the more I know, the more I should be able to write. I have recently started to try and inform myself more about the world we live in - it's not really a New Year's resolution; mainly because it's not the New Year yet but also because I don't tend to make them (why limit yourself to once a year to decide to do something to do something to make your life better?). It may yet fizzle out but here's hoping that, by this time next year, I'll know a little bit more about the things going on around me. And what more can you ask for?

Well, once again, I've meandered down to the end of a blog in a roundabout fashion without really necessarily making much of a point. But I'm beginning to think that's my signature style. I think I'll keep it. Ta ta for now.

* Although, now that I've written it down, I quite like the sound of that. Better nip off to the patent office...

Monday, 29 December 2008

I Call It Tired-Orr, The Destroyer Of Blogs

There is a beast, lurking and poised ready to strike in the back of the mind of anyone who feels themselves compelled to write. It's name is Tiredness and, today, it has me dead to rights in its sights...

You see, being fascinating, intelligent and devastatingly witty* isn't something that just slides off the brain, down through the arms, into the fingers and then out into the digital wonderland of the wide worldy interwebs via the intermediary of the keyboard at the drop of a hat, you know. It takes cogitating, deliberating, contemplating and whatever other synonyms you can be bothered to look up on in order to come up with a blog which meets the quality levels to which you become all accustomasized, like. Sadly, the muse is not with me today** so you'll just have to make do with this instead. And all because I'm too stubborn to skip a day and come up with something twice as good tomorrow. I said you shall have a blog a day and a blog a day you shall have!

To paraphrase Johnny Depp in the film Ed Wood:- "Worst blog you've ever seen, you say? Well, my next one will be better! Hello? Hello?"

* Yes, it is awfully presumptuous of me to assume that I'm any of those things but I'm going to go with it, anyway

** Neither in the sense of inspiration or the sci-fi tinged rock band

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Pronoun Trouble

The question has been asked as to which is the best Looney Tunes cartoon. This is virtually impossible to answer - it's akin to asking which you prefer, being able to see or being able to hear. However, I have narrowed it down to a choice few at this precise moment in time that I think are amongst the best (until I remember some of the other really good ones I've forgotten). Let the listing (with appropriate video evidence) commence:-

Duck Dodgers In The 24 1/2th Century - A parody of popular science fiction serials of the time, this one has to go into the list for unleashing one of my favourite Looney Tunes characters on to the world - Marvin The Martian. There's something appealing about the image of the tiny guy in the Roman centurion's outfit with his nerdy voice trying to destroy the Earth with his Eludium Pu-36 Explosive Space Modulator.
Best Moment - "I claim this planet in the name of Mars. Hmmm, isn't that lovely, hmmm?"

The Rabbit Of Seville - The other famous opera-based one. There's some really nice comedy business with all the various treatments that Bugs uses on Elmer while he;'s in the barber's chair and it's proof that these cartoons weren't aimed at an audience of children with the source material it references. It was comedy that happened to be animated.
Best Moment - The Deadpan expression on Bugs' face as he massages Elmers head with his hands and feet.

Duck Amuck - An entire short based on breaking the fourth wall where Daffy addresses the unseen animator who insists on tormenting him all the way through the picture. There are some great gags playing with the format of animation and some nice put-upon comedy expressions for the long-suffering Daffy.
Best Moment - The final reveal: "Ain't I a stinker?"

What's Opera, Doc? - The really famous opera one and frequently voted as the top Looney Tune ever, this one doesn't quite make it to the top spot for me. It's technically brilliant and has some absolutely beautiful animation but, I would say, at the expense of gags. it's just not got quite as high laugh quotient as some of the others. That's not to say that it's not a great cartoon - far from it, it's still head and shoulders above many others but I don't think it's the best one.
Best Moment - "Kill the wabbit! Kill the wabbit! Kill the wabbit!"

Rabbit Seasoning - At the time of writing (I reserve the ability to change my mind at any point, naturally), I would have to say that this is probably my favourite Looney Tune cartoon. It has some fantastic comic timing, a nice line in escalating twisted logic (which in very reminiscent of the Marx Brothers), some great facial expressions from Daffy, a nice continuing joke about the different positions his beak ends up after being shot and the obligatory section of Bugs Bunny indulging in some cross-dressing. What's not to love?
Best Moment - The blog-titular "Aha! pronoun trouble" closely followed by the closing "You're dethpicable..."

The common denominator in all of these? They were all directed by the one, the only, Mr Chuck Jones, a man with an instinctive understanding of animation and comedy. I'm officially jealous of my mate Jonny who got to interview the man - even more so as he says he was lovely, too.

So there you have it. Those are my favourites (barring the ones I've forgotten). What are yours?

Saturday, 27 December 2008

A Cartoon Strip A Day

Earlier this month, I discovered someone else who has been doing the daily posting thing, only far more interestingly and artistically than I. His name is James Kochalka, an American cartoonist and musician who has been keeping a daily diary in cartoon form every day since 1998 (barring a few days here and there). He publishes it online at his own American Elf site and also collects it regularly in book form.

It's an impressive achievement and there's something very appealing about them. The more you read, the more you find yourself drawn in. It speaks to the stubbornly obsessive part of me. He forces himself to do something every day, even if he doesn't want, even if he doesn't have anything more to say than "today I drew this comic strip", he's kept it up every day for just over a decade and I admire that dedication. If he can draw and ink a four panel comic strip every day then I certainly find the time to witter a few random words on here every day.

Friday, 26 December 2008

Festively Full

After yesterday's shameful confession, I can assure you that today's blog was 100% written on the day of posting....

It's a festive time of year and, as is traditional at this traditional seasonal celebrational time, I have massively over-indulged to potentially near-fatal levels (is it possible to die from a meat overdose? Well, I think it may well be). I ate, drank and was certainly very merry for many hours yesterday. As we all like a list, here are some of the things that yesterday involved:-

Mighty Boosh books
Now That's What I Call Christmas
Bread sauce
13 pairs of new socks
Peeling spuds and prepping sprouts
The Game (that's not the David Fincher film but an actual game)
Many much wine
Doctor Who Christmas episode
New DVDs
The longest short game of Trivial Pursuit ever
A ticket to see Bill Bailey in January
Not going near a computer for a whole day (first time in...well, ever, I think)

So today is going to be a much more leisurely affair... but still involving eating, drinking and a modicum of merry-making. Well, it's rude not to, you know.

Thursday, 25 December 2008

The Blog That Nobody Reads

I mean, seriously, it's Christmas Day. I could say absolutley anything in here and there'd be no one around to read it. Who in their right minds is going to be online at all? Well, me, obviously. Except....

Well, seeing as it's Christmas and there's nobody looking, I'll make a slight confession.

Come closer.

Closer still.

I'm not online at all right now. And, also, I haven't technically written a blog every day. I know, I know. Sometimes I've written a couple at once if I've known I'm not going to be near a computer much and then have set them to publish at the right time. For example, as I type at this very minute, it's still the afternoon of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day is very much in the dim and distant future. The likelihood of me finding the time to write and publish a blog on the day itself is slim to none and I don't want to break my record...

Is that really cheating, though? I've still written an individual blog entry for each day and they've been posted on a daily basis. It's just that, a couple of times, I've got ahead of myself.

Maybe this is the kind of scandal that could shake the world of live blogging and lead to increased regulation. Pre-written blogs will now carry warnings before, during and after so as not to give readers any false impressions.

And, on that bombshell, I think I'll leave it.

Festive holiday greetings to you all. Eat, drink and be merry and remember to wear the elasticated trousers to accommodate post-dinner spreading.

Peace, out.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

'Twas The Blog Before Christmas

'Twas the blog before Christmas
And all through the net
Not a creature was blogging
And none were online...yet...

This did not stop
The stubborn bald man
From writing a post
He would stick to his plan

Of writing some words
Each day in December
Though, in all honesty,
No one really remembers

Still at this time of year
A festive old time
There's little you can do
To stop lots of bad rhyme

So here's to you all
Let's all raise a glass
And hope that this poem
Doesn't fall flat on its behind

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Snoozy Train

What is about train seats that induces sleep? I cannot go a single seated train journey* without the head starting to loll, the eyelids beginning to droop and then that sudden jerking of the head accompanied by a half-snore, half-snort that amuses the rest of the carriage (although, being English, everyone will do their best to not look too amused). I did it on the way home just now and, perversely, it makes me feel even more tired by the time I get home.

It's not an age thing, either - I've done it for years. Sit gained, wakefulness lost. There's got to be some sort of medical reason for it. I can't sleep in cars, buses** or planes but stick me in a train or a tube and I'm away. Maybe someone should do a study.

As long as they wake me up in time for me stop...

* And, let's face it, there are precious few of those thanks to the ridiculously over-crowded nature of rush hour traffic, right, commuters? Yeah, right on.

** Excepting alcohol-induced unconsciousness on the night bus. There's no mystery behind the causes of that one. There's a mystery behind where the traffic warden's hat came from but not the boozy snoozing.

Monday, 22 December 2008

It's Not Ours Anymore...

Over the last nearly ten years,* there's been a growing sense of dissatisfaction with the newer Star Wars films. "It's not as good as it was when we were kids and we loved it," seems to be a common cry. Well, that may well be our opinion and we are certainly entitled to it but it's an opinion that will generally not be agreed to by the current generation.

Having spent some time with friends who now have children of their own, I've seen the same sort of fervour in their eyes when it comes to Star Wars that used to burn in my own. The difference for them - they don't distinguish between old Star Wars and new Star Wars; it's all Star Wars to them. If anything, they're slightly fonder of and more familiar the newer films. They still have the same desire to incessantly watch them that we all had and the same need for every toy. Except now, they still get new instalments to look forward thanks to the new Clone Wars cartoon and, let's face it, all we had in the Eighties were Droids cartoons and Ewoks films - not exactly the finest moments in the Star Wars universe.

So maybe it's time to accept new Star Wars for what it is - Star Wars-based entertainment for the newer generation. Hey, if nothing else, at least it keeps them watching the original trilogy as well.

It's not time for a re-appraisal of Jar Jar Binks, however. He really is unreservedly shit.

* Yes, it has been that long since the first prequel

Sunday, 21 December 2008

The 25 Days Of Newman

Naturally enough, I'm not the only person doing a bit of daily posting this month. There are other people with a similar idea and doing a far, far more entertaining of job of it* - comedy songwriters Paul and Storm being one of them (well, technically being two of them, I suppose, as there's...yes, two of them).

They have a very simple theory which they've illustrated before and it runs like this:- any film in the world could be improved with a Randy Newman-inspired theme, much in the style of Toy Story. And so they've crafted some to prove it. I particularly liked the Lord Of The Rings and The Passion Of The Christs themes they composed.

Well, this Christmas, they've decided go one better (or 25 better technically) and provide a new Newman-inspired theme every day up to Christmas. You can listen the ones they've posted so far here - my personal favourites are the extremely wrong themes for A Brief History Of Time and Schindler's List, the structurally similar Memento and the one for the Muppet Movie 'cause The Muppet Movie is one of the finest films ever made.**

Go and give 'em a listen, it's good stuff.

* Yeah, I know that's not difficult really

** Don't argue with me on this one, I shall not be moved

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Things That Made Me Smile Yesterday

Or Simple Things Please Simple Minds

Because it's easy to say negative things but much nicer to be positive, here's a list of little things that, for me, made a standard day more enjoyable when you stop to think about it. There wasn't anything particularly remarkable about yesterday and I guess that's my point. Anyway, here's what I liked about the day:-

- Adam and Joe's 6Music shows
- Believing that somehow in some way, shape or form that Lucozade is a hangover cure
- Having a friend ring you when you're thinking of ringing them
- The Fast Show - Series 2, Episode 5
- The sound of sellotape being ripped off a comic bag containing a brand new, shiny comic
- American Elf: The Collected Sketchbook Diaries Of James Kochalka Vol 1
- Reminiscences of the night before the morning after
- Actually going out of the office for lunch for once and then coming back to discover there's drinks planned in the office. Result.
- Pretty girls
- Adding the Christmas episode of Doctor Who and the new Wallace and Gromit to my Sky+ record list
- Pictures of work colleagues trying on a mankini (over their normal clothes, of course - it wasn't that sort of a party)
- Thinking about which Looney Tunes cartoons are my favourites
- Filling up more of the blank space in my black notebook with actual words and stuff

That's it for me. How about you?

Friday, 19 December 2008

The Hangover Diaries - Part The Second

Once again, our intrepid hero has ventured forth into the wide world of copious drinking. And there was much rejoicing...

The Cause: Work-related drinking-type shenanigans
Alcohol Consumed:
Many much quantity of beers
Start Time:
End Time:
Close Of Play Condition:
Voice fading due to drunken singing of drunken songs
Even better than that - a box of dirty chicken from the dirty KFC
Travel Incidents?: Fell asleep on bus and overshot by one stop so that's improving
Morning After Remedy (Lucozade and A Bacon Sarnie):
Two bottles of Lucozade, a cheese and ham croissant, a plain croissant and a large plate of Chinese food for lunch
Morning After Condition:
Weirdly chipper. Not sure how.
Next Drinking:
Possibly tonight. Christmas is here....

Thursday, 18 December 2008

There's A Lot Of It About

So, with today's lesson being to never promise something in the next blog which you then don't deliver because you ended up not doing the thing that you said you were going to do*, let us instead talk of some Spike Milligan stuff what I have seen (for they are many and varied and strange yet silly with a daft underside). I've selected a few little oddities that people might not know about because they already know about the stuff that they know and might not realise that they know nothing about the stuff for which they are unaware unless, of course, it turns out they do know it after all.**

Spike Milligan: A Series Of Unrelated Incidents At Current Market Value - This was a real indication of how different the BBC used to be. Shown in 1961, it's a strange little one-off programme in which Spike does his usual thing - except that back then, I can't imagine that a prime-time BBC audience was overly used to him doing his usual thing (half-finishing sketches, being very random, singing the end credits in a Spike fashion). It was recovered a few years back and shown as part of BBC4's Missing Believed Wiped season and I, for one, am glad they found it.

The Telegoons - Back in the early 60s, when telly was still trying to work itself out, the BBC wanted to try and find a way to translate the Goon Show from radio onto the screen. It was too surreal for a straightforward TV series and animation was too time-consuming - there was only one way left:- puppetry. The designs are pleasingly Spike-ish, Sellers, Milligan and Secombe all provide the voices and the adaptations of Goon Show eps are fairly faithful (if cut-down and a little simplified) but it somehow isn't as great as it should be (and, being both a fan of Spike and most forms of puppetry, it pains me to say it). Here's a brief clip:-

The Bed Sitting Room - Based on his own play, this 1969 film is very British, from its cast to its surreal and bleak sentiment. Following a nuclear attack, the surviving inhabitants of Britain find themselves slowly mutating into strange things. There's a whole slew of classic British comic actors including Arthur Lowe, Michael Hordern, Harry Secombe, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore to name but five. Spike himself turns up in it, naturally, wandering his Milligan-ish way through the film. Here's the first ten minutes - you can find the rest of it on That There Tube-y Place (as i believe it's called):-

* 2008 Contender for Most Tortured Sentence In A Blog

** 2008 Winner for Most Tortured, etc., etc...

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Holding Pattern

I've generally managed to post blogs about something each day so far in this month I like to call Blogcember (you see, what I've done is take the word "December" and the word "blog" and, because I'm attempting to post a blog a day for the whole month...OK, yes, I know, you get the idea with that one). Admittedly, there was that one blip where I pretty much wrote nothing but other than that you've had some form of content every day. Well, consider this Blip No. 2 - very much a McBlog; low on actual content, not very satisfying but does the trick as a stopgap measure.

Time in December is at a premium, you see. There's work, there's drinking, there's the eating of Christmas curries - there just aren't enough hours in the day to provide you with a constant cornucopia of fact-based frivolity. In hindsight, I probably should have picked another month to try this but I have my moments of rash behaviour which are then carried onwards by my stubborn streak. I will endeavour to make it up to you tomorrow, however - tonight, I am going to see a selection of archive Spike Milligan programmes at the NFT so I'll tell you a bit about them. So you there you, a politician's blog for you today - high on promises of things to come, low on actuals... (Anyway, it's Christmas time, you'll all be out boozing anyway, not bothering to read this. Go on, get back to your swigging of the eggnog.*)

* Does anyone actually drink that? I didn't think so.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Life After Python

So we're all agreed that Monty Python is great, right? Good, good. But separately from Python, they've all gone on to do some fine comedy work, too. I mean, who can forget the pinnacle of comedy genius that is Nuns On The Run? Obviously, I'm blatantly lying for comic effect on that one but here are some genuine decent examples of their post-Python work.

Terry Jones & Michael Palin - Having been writing partners on Python, they continued their partnership with a series that spoofed Boy's Own-style tales of spiffing adventures and top-hole derring do. It was, of course, Ripping Yarns and great fun it is too. Here's an extract from one of my favourites, Tomkinson's Schooldays:-

John Cleese - Well, I think we all know what his major success was after the Python years - playing the voice of the animatronic gorilla in the feature film George Of The Jungle. However, a lot of people don't realise that he made a short-lived sitcom in the 70s which revolved around a nightmarish hotelier, his fierce wife and their racist caricature of a waiter. It was called Fawlty Towers and this bit is always funny:-

Eric Idle - Yes, we all know that he's been a bit crap in recent years, turning up and being a token English bloke in plenty of awful American films but eh still had some good stuff left in him just after the end of Python, namely Rutland Weekend Television. A sketch show based in the UK's smallest television stations, it features some great sketches and ultimately gave birth to The Rutles (as Neil Innes worked on this series with Idle). It also has this which is brilliant:-

Graham Chapman - Didn't have a glittering post-Python career, mainly due his constant struggle with alcoholism. He did some work with Douglas Adams (including a sketch pilot called Out Of The Trees which was lost from the archives for some time but has recently been recovered). Favourite work for me - A Liar's Autobiography Vol. 6, which does what it says on the tin - alternates between being unflinchingly honest and full of blatant lies. Well worth a read if you can find it.

Terry Gilliam - Don't know, he kind of disappeared, I think... No, not really, he went on to direct some of my favourite films ever in the history of ever. Jabberwocky, Time Bandits, Brazil, Tweleve Monkeys - I even enjoy The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen. He also makes a brilliant subject for documentary with both The Hamster Factor (about the successful completion of Twelve Monkeys) and Lost In La Mancha (about his almost farcically unsuccessful attempt to film The Man Who Killed Don Quixote) making fascinating viewing. Even his trailers are good fun (although his last few films have been a bit on the duff side - here's hoping he finds his mojo again):-

Life after Python - they may all be slightly embarrassing middle-aged men now (except for the dead one) but they still had their moments.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Law Of Diminishing Returns

You can pretty much guarantee in Hollywood these days that, if a blockbuster film is successful, not just one but two follow-ups will be on the way. Yes, in these times when the word "trilogy" is bandied about pretty freely, it's not the sequel but the threequel* that you've got to look forward to as well. The problem here is that often there isn't enough material to sustain three films or the second and third are rushed into production together (increasingly common) and so don't have the same amount of care taken over them as a result. This can lead to a trilogy limping to an unsatisfactory conclusion. I know what you're thinking; that so far, this is all idle conjecture on my part without any proof to back it up. Well then, let's take a look at some of the main offenders, shall we?

Pirates Of The Caribbean - On paper, the first film was something that really didn't have any right to work at all. An old-fashioned swashbuckling, pirate-y adventure yarn which is based on a theme park rife of all things? Did nobody remember the lesson of Cutthroat Island with Geena Davis? Fortunately not, for the first film turned to be brilliant - a good fun family romp very much in the mold of Indiana Jones with a top scene-stealing turn from Johnny Depp. So inevitably, there would be sequels. And sadly, they went for the back-to-back filming route. The next two films up the complexity and the running time considerably (the third film clocking in at juts under three hours) but at the expense of a lot of of the charm that the first film had. There are still some great moments in these last two film but, by the point of the third film that everyone is quadruple-crossing everyone else for barely comprehensible reasons, I kind of stopped caring a bit.

The Matrix - The first film was a breath of fresh air when it came out. Sure, it notions of "what is real, anyway" are nothing particularly new to sci-fi (Philip k Dick had spent most of his career asking that very question) but it combined it with a very distinct visual style and some great martial arts to make something memorable. So along come the inevitable filmed-back-to-back sequels and the returns on these diminished so much that, by the damp squib of a denouement to the final film, I was left feeling annoyed that I spent so much time watching something that turned out to be so anti-climactic. (Although I quite enjoyed the second film - I missed it at the cinema so, by the time I caught it on DVD and everyone had told me how awful it was, my expectations were lowered to a point where I could enjoy it. The third one's still crap though.)

X-Men - Oh, it all started so promisingly. Build-up and scene setting in the first film, an escalation in the second film (one of the few times that a sequel is better than the first film) and then the director jumps ship to direct Superman instead and someone takes all that lovely build up, pisses on it then throws it in the bin. Seriously, rarely has a franchise been squandered so badly. Characters are discarded with little care or attention, plot lines that have been brewing in previous films are pretty much dispensed with and Vinne Jones plays Juggernaut. It's quite insulting, really. And it also contains one of the worst continuity mistakes I've ever seen where it switches from day to night in the middle of a scene. I'm not just being a picky film buff here - the person I was with in the cinema actually turned to me at that point and asked if that just happened.

I could go on and I'm sure you can think of many examples yourselves but you get the gist with that anyway. Hollywood - sometimes, all it needs is one film. Give it a rest, eh?

* Horrible word, isn't it? Nasty little marketing term that's meant to sound cute and clever but actually just sounds smug and irritating.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

The Hangover Diaries - Part The First

Here's the return of an old favourite* - yes, as the Christmas festive season is upon us, That Baldy Fella Blogging presents The Hangover Diaries, in which my fragile state of post-drinking being is laid bare for the world to point a finger at and kind of snigger a bit.

The Cause: Two birthday drink-ups in the one night (the old double-whammy)
Alcohol Consumed: Many pints, a few Bloody Mary's and far too many Jaeger Bombs
Start Time: 19:30ish
End Time: 02:00ish
Close Of Play Condition: Definitely pretty pissed but still upright and with memory intact
Kebab? Worse than that - a small selection of McDonald's burgers (which I can still taste)
Travel Incidents?: Fell asleep on bus and overshot by two stops so not too bad
Morning After Remedy (Lucozade and A Bacon Sarnie): Not yet although probably soon to wash away the taste of the burgers
Morning After Condition: So far, reasonably ticketty boo. There must be a Red Bull crash in the offing at some point, though...
Next Drinking: Tuesday night

*I don't have any actual statistics to back up the claim that it's a "favourite" but I'm going to go with it anyway...

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Best Of The Worst

Atomic batteries to power! Turbines to speed! After a lacklustre effort yesterday, time to get the old grey matter firing and provide an actual blog with actual content an' ting an' ting. So what's today's topic of conversation, I hear you dutifully question. Today, my inter-friends, we are going to be talking about evil. That's right, evil. Eeeeeeeevil in the "mwuhahahhahahaha" sense. Everyone loves a fictional villain*. But who is the best fictional villain? There's only one way to find out - list!

Magneto - The self-styled master of magnetism and would-be mutant messiah - not your straight forward mustache-twiddling villain type, to be honest. He veers back and forth between misunderstood tortured anti-hero, reluctant good guy and genocidal megalomaniac. If you're going to have mood swings, they should be really sweeping ones. Long-standing arch-enemy of the X-Men (and occasional ally), Magneto started out as a friend to X-Men founder Charles Xavier but soon diverting down a different path when their opposing viewpoints about the betterment of mutants became apparent. Magneto's been killed, resurrected, de-powered and re-powered more times than I can count but he's still hanging in there.
Best evil moment - Ripping every shred of metal from Wolverine's bones in X-Men #25

Ernst Stavro Blofeld - The ever-changing criminal mastermind who made life difficult for James Bond and, without whom, there would be no Doctor Evil. He appears in six of the Bond films and differs each time depending on the actor playing him. For me, the definitive Blofeld is the version portrayed by Donald Pleasance in You Only Live Twice (I love the weirdly emphasised way he says "Goodbye, Mr Bond"). I know it may seem unusual for me to identify with the slapheaded version but I'm nothing if not immensely predictable.
Best evil moment - Setting the standard for world-conquering megalomaniacs everywhere with his hollowed out volcano base in "You Only Live Twice"

The Joker - The Clown Prince of Crime himself and another constantly changing villain whose personality shifts according to the writer. More so than Batman, it was the Joker (as drawn by Brian Bolland in "The Killing Joke") who was responsible for getting me into Batman comics. I used to eagerly await any appearance of the grinning maniac in the comic and, to be honest, still think he livens things up whenever he's in town
Best evil moment:- Shooting and permanently crippling Batgirl in "The Killing Joke"

Davros - Sure, The Master is a classic villain as well but, when it comes to villainy, you can't beat an evil ranting genius. Plus he's the man who inflicted the Daleks upon the universe so that has to bump him up a few points in the whole villainy league. His recent return to new Doctor Who was much anticipated and didn't disappoint.
Best evil moment - Making the Doctor realise that he turns his companions into people who murder on his behalf in "Journey's End". Nice!

Emperor Palpatine - Wizened old chief of the evil galactic Empire and Darth Vader's boss, Emperor Palpatine has to ride high in the evil charts. When I was seven years old and had freshly watched Return Of The Jedi, I really wanted to be able to shoot bolts of electricity out of my finger tips just like the Emperor does at the end. Now that I'm thirty two... I still wish I could do that. Go on, you know it would be cool. Brrrzzzakkkt! Yeah, take that!
Best evil moment - Well, shooting Luke Skywalker with his electric fingers, obviously.

But there is one man who stands shiny head and shoulders above the rest. He's spent nearly 70 years plotting and scheming against the most powerful man in the world and he's still going strong. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you...

Lex Luthor - Yes, it's another slaphead but we all know that bald head = evil (them's just the rules). Over the years, he's gone from scheming mad scientist to criminal businessman and back to mad scientist again. For me, he was a far more interesting character when he was the evil head of a multi-national company. Publicly, he was loved and respected but privately, he was a bitter man who resented Superman taking "his" Metropolis away from him. Sadly, the current rash of comics creators felt that made Superman too ineffectual and have returned Lex to being a mad inventor plotting up schemes in underground liars. Much like the Joker, a story is still enlivened by his presence though.
Best evil moment - Running for president... and winning! Stitch that, Superman! Evil wins!

Villains. We love to hate them so long may they plot and scheme whilst throwing their heads back and laughing in an evil fashion. Altogether now - mwuhahahahahahahahaha!

* Not real-life ones, obviously. They're just deeply unpleasant people.

Friday, 12 December 2008

For The Sake Of It



I've got nothing.

Not a sausage.

The only reason I'm posting this at all is because I'm a stubborn and pig-headed sort of a cove who won't back down once his mind is set. A blog a day you was a-promised and a blog a day you will get. I didn't, however, promise that you would get an interesting blog a day... Yes, that's what's technically known in the trade as "a cop out" but, fortunately for all of us, this is a free service so you can't demand your money back. I'd only have spent it on alcohol and DVDs anyway and would have just had to shuffle nervously whilst looking down at my feet and muttering something about boxsets.

So, come back again tomorrow. Maybe it'll be good. Who knows? Certainly not me...

Thursday, 11 December 2008


Having written about those animated classics Bagpuss, Ivor The Engine et al the other day, it's set the mind off on an animated nostalgia trip and why not? So here are some other stop-motion animated classics from back in the days when I was smaller, thinner and had hair...

The Moomins - I had very fond memories of this one even though there was something about it that was slightly creepy and occasionally terrifying to my little mind. I think the character of The Groke was the one that most scared me - with it's big staring eyes, leaving a frozen trail all around it. It kind of faded in and out quietly too - always far creepier. This stop-motion series with its fuzzy felt appearance ran on CITV back in 1983 - it was adapted for the UK from a series made for Polish, Austrian and German TV. Some of the scarier / darker elements were removed for the UK version and it still creeped me out! Quality theme tune on it:-

The Trap Door - Berk, talking skull Boni and a spider-type thingy called Drut are servants of the Thing Upstairs. The one main rule - don't open the trap door. You can guess the rest... I absolutely loved this one. Mainly because, every week, you were guaranteed that a fresh weird and wonderful monster-y thing would come crawling out of the Trap Door. Also, as the characters were made from clay, I used to fashion my own versions out of Plasticine to play with. It had a cracking theme tune too ("Stay away from that Traaap Dooooor!":-

Chorlton And The Wheelies - In which a dragon from Yorkshire helps some half-car, half-person types fight a Welsh witch who lives in a kettle - you don't get to write sentences like that every day (unless, like me, you regularly write blogs about the weird stuff you watch and read, in which case, never mind...). This was one of those series that, during my teenage years, I began to become convinced was a dream*. Another show from Cosgorve Hall who are renowned for brilliantness - not only for Danger Mouse but also for Count Duckula and their stop-motion adaptation of Wind In The Willows (all of which featured David Jason, the voice of Cosgrove Hall). Once again, Chorlton featured some top theme-tunery:-

So there you go. Stop motion animation - before Aaardman Animations came along, it was already always there, happily chugging along and being great.

* Much like Noah and Nelly. You don't remember Noah and Nelly? "All aboard the Skylark"? No? No? Hmmm, please yourselves)

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

WatchLookViewSee - Big Screen Version Vol 2

Here is stuff what has been gathered by my sensory receptor cells before being transmitted to the primary visual and auditory cortexes in order to assign meaning to the visual and auditory stimuli received. In other words, Nick like films. Films good.

The Incredible Hulk - In a nutshell: This time round, Hulk really does smash. There has been many a superhero adaptation over the last ten years and the superhero train seems to show no sign of slowing down. Following the successful re-imagining of the Batman franchise, Marvel have (very wisely) decided to do the same for this sequel/remake of 2003's Hulk. Of all the recent superhero flick's, the original 2003 Hulk film has to be the most disappointing. Arthouse director Ang Lee took a comic book about a big green angry guy in purple pants who smashes stuff a lot and set out to make a serious, arthouse, Greek tragedy of a film. Now I think certain comics definitely fit the mean and moody approach (Batman, I'm talking about you here) but Hulk? Really? Big green guy, smashing, purple pants? No. Of course, it didn't help that the odd ludicrously comic book moment was thrown in, too - the Hulk poodle; utterly, utterly ridiculous (I feel silly just typing the words). So along comes this re-imagining with a whole new cast. It's a far more enjoyable film, pitched much more along the right lines, with plenty of Hulk turning green and angry and smashing stuff up, as well as some nice nods to the TV series as well as the comics. However, the drawback to now having the Hulk appear so much is that it feels very cartoony - the CGI is never quite convincing enough. Also, Edward Norton, usually a reliable actor, seems somewhat lacklustre in the lead role which is odd considering he had so much involvement in the project, even going so far as to work on the script. So, an improvement then and good fun overall but, if I'm going to recommend a recent Marvel comic book film, it's still going to be Iron Man (notice I said Marvel - The Dark Knight's still the best comic book film in many a year in my humble opinion).

Tropic Thunder - In a nutshell: Some funny moments and performances but not as great as the sum of its parts. I like Ben Stiller's stuff on the whole but there's always a feeling that he could do better, that he could be funnier, and Tropic Thunder is no exception. It's an odd film, taking the mickey out of your traditional Hollywood blockbuster efforts while at the same time, managing to become a traditional Hollywood blockbuster effort by the end. Robert Downey Jr's performance as an Aussie method actor who takes his roles too far is the best thing about the film - that and the opening spoof adverts that set up the actors in the film. And Tom Cruise's role is initially funny before descending into Tom Cruise thinking he's far funnier than he actually is*

Speed Racer - In a nutshell: A garish, confusing mess of a film. So why did I really enjoy it? This is a strange one. It's a live-action version of a cartoon which we didn't really have in this country so we have no real frame of reference for it. It's very much feels like it's a kid's film but it's too adult in places for kids and yet far too childish for adults. It's a near non-stop barrage of CGI sets, props and editing, all in bright primary colours which make your eyes water. It really should be one of the worst films ever made. And yet, somehow, against the odds, I found myself curiously drawn in by it. Maybe it's the surprising number of English character actors who litter the film ("Oh, look, it's him. That bloke from that thing. You know, the one with the woman. Yeah, that.") Maybe it's the fact that it shifts back and forth and doesn't give you too much time to think about the fact that a lot of it doesn't seem to make any sense ("Wait, they don't have a car for the big race at the end? What happened to the one he was driving at the end of the last race? It looked fine to me. Did I blink and miss something?") Maybe it's just the fact that I fancy Christina Ricci with her black bob haircut.Whatever the reasons, I found myself enjoying this despite the fact that it's a bit like being repeatedly poked in the eye by brightly coloured sweets. Give it a go.. but you have been warned: it's not a film for everyone (quite Marmite-y, I think).

And that's the weather for today. Back to you in the studio, Fiona...

* Yeah, OK, so I just don't really like short-arsed mentallist Tom Cruise. Is that really a surprise?

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

But Emily Loved Him

I was just one of a generation of children who grew up with the comforting sounds of a gentle voice narrating the adventures of a saggy, old cloth cat (baggy and a bit loose at the seams) so I was saddened today to learn that Oliver Postgate, creator and narrator of such children's classics as Bagpuss, Ivor The Engine, Noggin The Nog and The Clangers, passed away yesterday at the age of 83. I'm struggling hard not to resort to cliche and talk of different eras alongside using phrases like "they don't make 'em like they used to" but Postgate and his creative partner Peter Firmin really were representative of a specific era of children's television (which it is very easy to look at through lovely, fluffy, rose-tinted glasses). There's a particularly lovely quote from Postgate about his working relationship with the BBC, who transmitted much of his work:-

"We would go to the BBC once a year, show them the films we'd made, and they would say, 'Yes, lovely, now what are you going to do next?'"
"We would tell them, and they would say, 'That sounds fine, we'll mark it in for 18 months from now', and we would be given praise and encouragement and some money in advance, and we'd just go away and do it."

Brilliant. And that seems to sum up the whole feel of the programmes put out by Smallfilms, the company that Postgate and Firmin set up. Basically working out of a cowshed on Firmin's estate, they crafted a selection of perfectly formed little fictional worlds out of which they spun their stop-motion wonder. It wasn't just my generation, either - while I grew up watching Ivor The Engine and Bagpuss*, my parents had grown up seeing shows like Noggin The Nog.

So thank you, Mr Postgate, for entertaining many generations over the years. I'll let his work speak for itself - here's the first episode of Bagpuss:-

Ship In A Bottle - Part 1

Ship In A Bottle - Part 2

* I never really watched the Clangers growing up; they were slightly before my time and repeats were limited to certain shows - Bagpuss thankfully being one of the shows which seemed to get a fair share of airings.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Making A List, Checking It Twice

No, I'm not Father Christmas - don't be fooled by the large belly, bearded face and cheery disposition... well, most of the time on that last one. I made myself a list the other day ('cause we all know lists are good) of things what I could write about during the self-imposed Blog Month and yet I don't feel like writing about any of those things right at this minute. It makes me wonder if I could ever could be an actual writer - I don't know if I have the discipline to sit down and bash out words every day.

I watched Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe the other day in which he interviewed several prominent TV writers, including Graham Linehan of Father Ted, Black Books and IT Crowd fame (a favourite of mine) and Russell T Davies. It was heartening in a way to hear that some of them felt the same way I do about writing - as Douglas Adams once said, writing is the process of staring at a blank piece of paper until your forehead bleeds. The predominant feeling among quite a few of them was that they enjoyed having written something - looking back over the completed piece of work - but the actual process of writing itself was something that doesn't hold much enjoyment. I'm very much in the same mold - love having a finished piece, hate sitting down to actually write (except for those rare moments where it all suddenly clicks in your head and you're struggling to keep up with what's running through your head; those are the good moments).

I also have a couple of self-imposed blog rules: -

-no talking about things that happened with friends and family. They didn't ask to have details about them published on a public internet site so it wouldn't be fair. Plus nobody wants to read "he said, she said" style blog entries - that's what diaries are for.

- try not to post the same sort of thing two days in a row (unless it's a multi-part / deliberately themed set of blogs, obviously). Slightly vaguer rule this one and not one I always stick to...

- be interesting and be genuine. You want people to read this so the ultimate crime is to be boring. Also, always be true to yourself - don't pretend to be something you're not. I'd like to think I stick to this one but you'll be the judge of that, I guess.

So I guess this means today is one of those days what I warned you about at the start of the month where I might not have a lot to say. Hopefully, however, I managed to say nothing in a reasonably diverting way, though (and, by my own rules, tomorrow should be something different...)

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Papers Bound Up With String

I have a compulsion. I realise that my already documented obsessive compulsive collecting habits will mean that this does not come as much of a surprise but I was not intending to shock. If I had been intending to shock, I would have opened with a sentence more along the lines of "I have a compulsion to sniff warm bicycle seats" (which, I hasten to add, I don't have and anyone who says that's in no way shocking will get a clip right round the lughole).

No, it's a fairly innocuous compulsion but a compulsion nonetheless. You see, I have a minor stationery fetish (no, not a fetish for immobile objects, that's the wrong type of stationery - although the object in question doesn't really move around). It's not an indiscriminate fetish, either; it's quite specific. I have an obsession with notebooks.

I can't help it. Whenever I see notebooks, I have a strong urge to buy them. Fair enough, you might say, for someone who professes to be fond of writing. The thing is, though, that I never fill a notebook up. Not a personal one, anyway. Work ones? Sure, I've filled tons of the buggers. But I'm not gonna want to go back and re-read any of them (no offence, Work). My room is littered* with notebooks which are only a third or half filled before being discarded for a newer model.

This blog has, in fact, been drafted in my current notebook which might well be my favouritest notebook ever. It's a black hardback Moleskine notebook with a ribbon you can use as a bookmark and a black elasticated band on the back cover which you can pull over the front to keep it closed; I bought 'cause it has that elasticated band kind of like what Indiana Jones' notebook does. Look, if I didn't think I was a tragic case before now then you obviously haven't been paying enough attention, have you?

P.S. For those of you who like statistics, I'm currently on track for a full month's worth of blog posting, having posted a blog every day this December so far. It's also the longest continuous run of blogs that I have ever posted. So there you go, Fact Fans.

* Not literally, I'm quite tidy, really

Saturday, 6 December 2008

The Man, The Myth, The Chin

No, it's not Bruce Forsyth - although, curiously enough, his name is Bruce as well (must be a Bruce thing, having a big chin). I'm talking about B-movie legend Bruce Campbell, a man who is the very definition of a cult actor, and here's why:-

1. The Evil Dead trilogy. His most famous role, naturally - helping out his mate Sam Raimi and appearing as the beleaguered Ash who is repeatedly attacked by dead things for three films. The first film is more of a full-on horror and the third film ramps up the comedy level a little too far but the second pitches the balance between horror and comedy just right and is where he really gets a chance to shine. Top moment? Fighting his own possessed both attached to and then detached from his body before going insane and sharing a laugh-along with the entire contents of the possessed house.

2. The Adventures Of Brisco County, Jr. A sadly short-lived series following 19th century bounty hunter Brisco County Jr as he attempts to round up the 13 men responsible for his dad's death (as well as looking for "the coming thing" with the upcoming turn of the century) and involving mysterious power-giving orbs, time travel and ahead-of-their-time inventions. It was good cheesy fun with another appealing turn by Campbell, backed up by a solid cast of supporting and returning characters; my favourite of which being Pete Hutter who had a pathological dislike of people touching his gun and a tendency to get killed off only to return a few episodes later, comic-book style ("I was only gut shot. I'm stronger now with less appetite"). Sadly, no bugger watched it so it got cancelled after one series.

3. Bubba Ho-Tep. Quite possibly the ultimate in high concept B-movies. An ageing Elvis (who faked his death years before) finds himself battling an ancient Egyptian mummy alongside a black man who thinks he's JFK. Yeah, seriously, it doesn't get any higher concept than that. It's good fun and is surprisingly touching as well but it's Campbell's performance as the declining Elvis that is the showstealer. He's obviously having the time of his life playing the role and it shows. If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it. It's great.

If you haven't seen any of the above, well, there's still a chance you may have seen him. Being a friend of Sam Raimi, Campbell has cameoed in all three Spider-Man films so far - in the first film, he's the ring announcer who gives Spider-Man his name; in the second, a snooty usher who won;t let Peter Parker into see Mary-Jane's play; and, in the third, a ridiculously accented French waiter.

Bruce Campbell - we salute you. And your unfeasibly large chin.

Friday, 5 December 2008

Self Help

Our story so far:- Older Nick has discovered an actual, honest-to-murgatroyd, working time machine. Following an exciting and preposterous adventure which is far too expensive to be shown here and in which he procured enough plutonium to power the flux capacitor, Older Nick travels back in time ten years to offer Younger Nick some sage advice. And now the saga continuums....

OLDER NICK enters. We see him approach YOUNGER NICK as he props up the bar in the local (well, time does move on but some things never change...)

Come with me if you want to live.

Oh my God, you're me from the future!

Ah, James Cameron, helping dispense with the need for exposition. Pint?

I need to be asked that in the future?

Sadly, no. That hasn't changed.

Well, as it looks like I don't escape either "fat" or "bald", might as well have another.

The BARMAN (didn't mention him before? Well, he's stood there) pours two more pints of Stella*

So is this the part where you tell me I've become some sort of terrible, tyrannical despot who rules the world in an iron grip of fear and must be stopped at all costs?

Unfortunately not.


Yeah, still a source of disappointment to me, to be honest.

Well, you've got the look.

True, true. Oh, you're gonna want to start cultivating this look, by the way. Your hair's going thin.

It's not thin, it's long.

Yeah, it's long. It's just very widely spaced apart.

You came back to insult yourself. That's good.

No, the insults were just an added bonus.

So we still think we're possessed of a dry wit in the future then?

Much to the disappointment of our friends, yes. No, I came back to offer you important information, something vital that could alter the very course of your life. You must promise me that, no matter what happens, you will remember what I have to tell you now and act upon it when the time is right.

OK, I promise.

Lean in closer.

YOUNGER NICK leans in.

Closer still.

YOUNGER NICK leans further. OLDER NICK looks furtively from side to side then leans in conspiratorially.

Next year, a new Star Wars film come out. Don't get too excited. It really isn't that good.

Argh! Imposter! Evil doppelganger! Heretic! Burn him! Burn him!

Ah, the folly of youth.

OLDER NICK travels back to the future (after finishing off his pint, naturally) to discover that he obviously didn't listen to himself as he still has that copy of the Star Wars Episode I script book he bought before the film came out. Bugger.

* Hey, blog product placement could be the way forward. It's the coming thing, I tell you.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Life - The Soundtrack

We've all done it at one point or another. At some point during our lives (or some would say for the most part during some lives), we picture ourselves as the star of our own personal movie that's running along inside our head. We know for a fact that the whole storyline revolves around us and, if we were ever written out, well, let's face it, the audience's interest would dwindle away to nothing. Don't deny it, you know you've done it. For me, that's happening most of the time (the shot composition could use a little work sometimes and it's more of an avant garde performance piece than a tightly plotted blockbuster but you get the idea). "That's all well and good," I hear you say,* "but what would the soundtrack to that film be like?" Well, I've gotta tell you, I'm glad you asked me that...

Scene 1 - Opening Shots
It's the opening scene. A new day, a new dawn and a blank canvas. The music swells with hope and fills us with the promise of things to come. Our ruggedly handsome yet follically challenged hero - bald of pate yet hairy of chin - raises himself from his chamber of slumber. Some mild comic relief is provided by the scratching of the arse and the ceremonial breaking of the morning wind (fart jokes always knock 'em dead). The music is majestic and sweeping yet simple and classic to evoke the wonder of things to come...
Track = "Shaddapa You Face" by Joe Dolce

Scene 2 - Motion Towards
Our man - now clad for the day and sporting a battered yet tatty leather jacket which he inexplicably still loves but should really be replaced by something that isn't falling apart - leaves the house. We're moving somewhere now, getting underway and the music carries us forward, gathering momentum, making the blood start to pulse and the soul start to soar.
Track = "The Birdie Song" by The Tweets

Scene 3 - Sick Transit, Glorious Monday
The first obstacle to the plot's progression. Our hero's way is blocked by the implacable face of an obstructive transport system that sees him as yet another cog in the machine, more cattle for the truck. He is driven to move onwards but his way is blocked at every turn by the wrong type of water on the lines or an insufficient number of passengers under the train. Here, musically, we are treated to the full bombast of his rage and frustration at the powerlessness of his situation.
Track = "My Boomerang Won't Come Back" by Charlie Drake

Scene 4 - Destination Known
Finally, our hero's journey reaches some measure of closure. His destination is reached - the cold, blank edifice of the dread castle wherein he must do battle for the nest eight and a half hours (which includes an hour for lunch). He skillfully negotiates the casual disinterest of the castle's stoic guardians and brazes the nostril-bashing ride in the lift that smells a little bit like sick. The music here is building to a crescendo - achievement is on the way. But wait... what's this? Upon logging in, he has to log back off to install a critical security update. A discordant note sounds...
Track = "Jake The Peg" by Rolf Harris

End Of Part One


Part Two to follow...**

* I don't actually hear you say that, obviously. That's just a narrative device. The interwebs doesn't work like that. Or does it? No, it doesn't.

** Actually, that's probably a lie. I think I've flogged this one to death quite sufficiently...