Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Funny For Your Ear - On The Radio

Note:- This post flowed much better the first time I wrote it but, after a laptop crash, it's now something of a pale imitation of a post. Caveat emptor.

It's a hoary old cliche but things only become hoary old cliches because they're true - there's something about radio comedy that feels more imaginative, more unfettered, more abstract than that of TV or film. That's not to say that I don't adore film and TV comedy - it's just that I've always had a soft spot for comedy for the ear. And here's why...

The Hitch Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy
After all, it began life as a BBC Radio 4 sitcom, after all. Douglas Adams has always been a big influence on me and this is where that influence began. It's that rarest of beasts - a sci-fi programme that's actually funny. But the emphasis is on the funny rather than the sci fi and it's a particularly understated British style of funny as typified by Arthur Dent's reaction to the destruction of his home planet ("Look, I'm a bit upset about that"). That said, it's combined with a wildly imaginative and inventive stream of ideas, from Babel Fish to Infinite Improbability Drives, all designed to drive the funny along.

The Goon Show
It's impossible to talk about audio comedy without discussing this. I was brought up on Spike Milligan books so it was only natural that I would graduate on to this. Radio was the perfect format for Spike Milligan, ideally suited to his surreal flights of fancy which would be impossible to realise in a visual medium.

I'm Sorry, I Haven't A Clue
Television currently seemed to be littered with a plethora of comedy panel shows (a lot which are very funny, to be fair) but, of course, radio got their first. This is one of the finest examples, keeping the tradition of British seaside silly, smutty innuendo going strong for nearly forty years. Sadly, original host Humphrey "Humph" Littleton passed away last year but, as with all showbiz, the show must go and has gone on.

The League Of Gentlemen / The Mighty Boosh
Another fine television tradition is that of plundering the ariwaves for the latest comedy and these are two of my favourite examples from the last ten years. The Mighty Boosh follow in the Goons tradition of the strange and the surreal which has surprisingly translated very well to the screen whereas the League Of Gentlemen obscured and suggested their cast of comedy grotesques on the radio before revealing them in their full gory glory on screen.

So there you have it, just a few examples as to why audio stuff is great. I could go on all day but we've all got other things to do. I mean, there's all that washing you've been putting off, isn't there? Just cause it's the holiday season...

Monday, 28 December 2009

Funny For Your Ear - On The Record

I was toying with the idea of going with a selection of "end of decade review" style blogs over the coming days in the lead up to the winding down of the year but, quite frankly, there are enough of those kind of lists floating about the interweb at the moment so let's just go with the usual random selection of blogging type stuff, shall we? Good, good.

So, over the Christmas period*, I listened to a two part radio documentary on Monty Python's comedy albums and it started me realising how much I adored the comedy album. Which means you are going to get a list after all but hopefully it's one which hasn't been repeated ad nauseum elsewhere in the last few days... Let's start with the ones which kicked off the train of thought.

Monty Python - Various albums
I was about 10 when I first started getting into Monty Python. A friend of my parents was round to visit and was a massive fan. He played a selection of the albums and I absolutely loved them - so much so that he ran me off copies on cassette of all of them. And boy, where those albums worn thin. I think what I really liked about was that not only did they often contain a lot of new material that you only could only get on the albums but they also reworked some of the old material in new ways (everything was re-recorded for the albums). This along with the Goon Show started a lifelong love of audio comedy.

Bill Hicks - Rant In E-Minor
Stand-up naturally lends itself to the audio medium (depending on the performer, of course - someone like Lee Evans might not translate) and, having died at a tragically young age with relatively few recordings of his work, Bill Hicks' audio recordings are that much more key to his body of work. Of the ones released, my favourite is Rant In E-Minor. Difficult to pinpoint exactly why but there's something about it that seems to that much more on the money than some of his other shows.

Derek And Clive Live
You can't really talk about comedy albums without mentioning this one. A bootleg recording of two comedians venting comedy spleen during a long run of a live show that found it's way into the public domain, it's a fascinating album. At times very funny, at other times filthy just for the sake of it and sometimes not particularly funny at all, I find it interesting because it's an insight into how two comedians work and begin to develop ideas into sketches.

The Secret Policeman's Ball
Now, this was a live show which was released theatrically and the album is effectively just the comedy sketches from the show but, it's such a great selection of sketches, that I'm going to include it in with the comedy albums. Any album that has Monty Python, Peter Cook, Billy Connolly and Rowan Atkinson all at the top of their game has to be worth a listen.

This is, of course, just a small selection - I could tediously drone on all day but let's come to a pause right about there. Comedy albums are only part of the wonder that is audio comedy so, next time, I shall take you through some of the radio programmes what are also great.

* I also toyed with giving you a Christmas themed blog but pretty much writing "ate too much, drank too much, got fab prezzies, played trivia based games til the wee small hours" nicely sums up the festive period in a lovely daze of food, booze and trivia, really.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Reality TV Drinking Bingo

Despite being involved with reality television in a professional capacity, I've never really been one to watch it (well, who wants to be reminded of work in their time off?). Until recently that is, when the Gorgeous Girlfriend and Stepson The Elder began my steady indoctrination on a Saturday and Sunday night.

In order to enliven procedings somewhat, I'm contemplating instituting a form of Reality TV Drinking Bingo. Whenever any of the following come up, you take a drink:-

- Contestant claims they've dreamed of this all their life.

- Contestant claims they don't want to go because they'd be letting everyone down.
- Judge claims this is their toughest week yet but they're up to the challenge
- Other judge claims contestant is just not up to it
- Contestant claims to have really learned something about themselves
- Contestant claims not to be interested in winning, just happy to be part of it (but is obviously lying)
- Token female judge cries at performance
- Grumpy older judge disagrees with everyone
- Contestant claims to have taken on board the judges scathing comments with good grace when inside a little part of them is dying

To be honest, that little lot should do the trick and get you well on the way to being nicely pissed...

Friday, 11 December 2009

City Life

Cities really are curious beasts. These sprawling entities that grow and change and adapt as the little creatures that inhabit them scurry about their daily business. It's not just the cities themselves that are unusual. No, those little city-dwelling creatures can be somewhat intriguing as well.

Case in point some weeks back:- As I left the office, it was fairly grey overhead (I know, nothing that unusual for an October afternoon; actually, the fact that it wasn't raining as well probably makes it a little unusual for London at this time of year). Everyone surrounding me seemed the same as always - the majority wore that standard city-like glaze of being locked in your own little personal bubble of private personal type none-of-your-business stuff.

As I made my way towards the station over Waterloo Bridge, the grey suddenly started to make way for bright sunshine flowing forth from a blue sky dotted with the occasional puff of cloud, which shone and reflected off the Thames and picked out the many riverside landmarks.

I felt that there seemed to be a communal lightening of the mood around me (that's not to say that the mood was particularly dark or depressing to begin with, just that the mood was noticeably lighter). There were smiles and a general sense of cheerfulness that hadn't seemed to be there before. All from a temporary shift in atmospherics.

Maybe it didn't overly shift, though. Maybe it was just me projecting my own shift in mood onto those around me. Maybe not, though because personally, when the grey gloom lifts and the sights of London are brought out blinking into the light once more, I suddenly remember why I love living in this city. I'm not just here because it's where I live and where I work. I'm here because it's my city. It's mine and I wouldn't change a thing.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

The Spanish Diaries - Part 3

Having already spent the best part of a week in Spanish Spain, we decided that it would be rude not to venture into Barcelona for the day. After what had become traditional navigational mishaps (including an inadvertent trip through a service station and a brief detour down a motorway turn-off which has no other function than to lead you back onto the motorway itself), we made it to the port and split up for a brief wander through the shopping district.

Weirdly, there seemed to be a theme to our ramblings and a weird theme it was, too. The theme itself? Creepy dolls. The beginnings of the motif were spotted on a small antique market outside the main entrance to Barcelona Cathedral. Every single stall there was seemed to have some form of creepy looking doll (along the apparently obligatory graphic-statuette-of-Christ-with-bleeding-stigmata-on-the-cross). The creepy icing on the freaky cake came, however, with the discovery on one stall of a basket full of dolls eyes (one Euro per eye. Needless to say, no purchases were made.

The theme was topped off later by the discovery of a small shop down one of the streets. Not so unusual, you may be thinking. The side street is the traditional domain of the small shop. Well, quite so. This small shop, however, was selling what they clearly believed to be realistic looking baby dolls but were, in fact, terrifying wizened troll-creatures of about ninety years of age. I can not even imagine who would find one of these horrifying monstrosities cute, let alone go so far as to make a purchase. Truly the stuff of which nightmares are made.

The afternoon was spent with a trip to Parc Guell - quite possibly the most insane place outside of a theme park that I've ever seen. Designed by Antoni Gaudi, it's rather like the resultant madness you would get if the imaginations of Roald Dahl, Walt Disney and Hans Christian Anderson made sweet, sweet love to each other and gave birth to a public park.

We came into the park at the Vallcarca side, meaning we were at the highest point to begin with and were afforded the best view possible out over Barcelona. Amazing though the height was, it didn't really do Barcelona any favours - the city was not pretty looking from up there, being grid-like and built-up in a way reminiscent of a shanty town.

Having finished surveying the views, we made our way down into the park proper and the Gaudi structures began to reveal themselves. We initially reached a wide platform which was edged and surrounded with the broken pottery effect beloved by Gaudi. It wasn't until we descended under the platform and out through towards the entrance that the true scope of the insanity begins to reveal itself. For there, just past a large multi-coloured lizard fountain and flanking the front entrance, lie two massive Hansel-and-Gretel-style gingerbread houses. It's really the only way to describe these architectural oddities.

Big lizard
Obviously, we'd walked through the park the opposite way and not got the full effect that a visitor arriving at the front gates would get but, in a way, there was something more satisfying about the slow reveal as opposed to the full assault on the senses. It's a prominent Barcelona landmark so I'm definitely glad we made the effort to get out and take a look round it.

Which witch lives here?
And that brings the Spanish recollections to a close. The trip ended as it began - with much drinking of the booze and playing of the games - and a good time was had by all. Your normal blogging service of random old mind tat will no doubt resume tomorrow...

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

The Spanish Diaries - Part 2

I'm not a particularly active in a sporty sense. This should come as a surprise to roughly no one who's ever met me. I mean, I do a fair bit of walking every day - around 3 or so miles - but strenuous physical exertion is not really my cup of tea.* So it was pretty much to everyone's surprise when I not only joined in with doubles tennis but also demonstrated my prowess with a skipping rope and nearly won at darts. OK, so darts doesn't exactly count as a strenuous activity being mainly played by beer-sodden blokes who are somewhat rounder across the middle than any other sportsman but still...

Also, describing what we played as "doubles tennis" may well be something of a misnomer as well. There was very little in the way of actual "rules" and very definitely no scoring. It was more of a football-volleyball-keepie-uppie-tennis combo with the main seeming to be to just keep the ball in the air. Permissible methods included passing it your teammate, headers, playing rebounds off the wall or fence and occasionally nipping round to your opponents side of the net. This version of the game was concluded once we'd finally managed to twonk all seven balls out of the court.

The playing of games was a definite theme for the week. The Family Kirk has always been fond of a card game and a board game. There was much playing of whist and sevens and one game of kaluki (a particular family favourite) which unfortunately lasted so long, we were in danger of still playing it by the time Pa's next birthday rolled around. However, the less said about the game of Pictionary which involved Uncle Phil and I seeming to draw every abstract concept in the box, the better...

More Spain stuff later...

* I don't actually drink tea so technically tea's not really my cup of tea, either. But I digress...

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

The Spanish Diaries - Part 1

Let us take a brief trip back in time to those halcyon days gone by of about six weeks ago with a selection of blogs what do detail moments from my recent family sojourn to a small town about 80km away from Barcelona.

The flight to Barcelona airport was blessedly uneventful - let's face, a trip in a metal container several thousand feet up is something that you really do want to be free from events (unless you count "mild surprise that even a cheese sandwich can be rendered inedible by airline chefs" to be an event). Upon arrival at the airport, however, there seemed to be a strange phenomenon in effect. For some inexplicable reason (presumably known only to the shadowy upper echelons of airport management), the preferred method of transport for airport staff seemed to be The Segway. Yes, one of the most ridiculous modes of transport known to man is somehow deemed appropriate for zipping about between crowds of holidaymakers and their bulky luggage.

This isn't to say that every member of staff who works there gets to use one. Oh no, far from it. It would appear from my limited observations that there is a definite hierarchy involved. The main official that we saw using one appeared to wield the mighty Segway as a weapon of seniority. She majestically hummed over to two members of staff who cringed slightly at the approach of the proud machine. Lady Segway then proceeded to imperiously circle her cowering minions whilst pointing and gesturing forth imperative decrees. Her important delegating done, Lady S then zoomed over to the information point, maintaining her position on the glorified unicycle the entire time she conversed by gently easing herself back and forth in a faintly foolish fashion. Wise words of information dispensed, she was then off, nipping forth to disseminate further instructions at an electric speed that only the near silent Segway can provide.

As is traditional for a holiday, the trip form the airport to the villa is marred by an expected amount of completely failing to follow the nearly useless directions. Fortunately, through a careful combination of zen navigation, going straight on, the occasional wrong way trip down a one-way street and a healthy dose of good, old-fashioned "we're pointing in pretty much the right direction" style navigating, we actually manged to find our way up a mountain in the dark and to the villa.

Villa might be a mild way of putting it. It's listed as a castle on the booking site (maybe slightly talking itself up a bit, although it does have a turret) and is divided into two sizeable apartments which sleep around twenty people overall (so a little under-utilised as there are seven of us). However, it's the grounds where it becomes really impressive. There's the swimming pool (pretty standard), the barbecue house with dart board (getting better), the long veranda with ping-pong table (nice) the full-size tennis court (yes, really) and vineyard area with sheep and chickens. Add to that the fact that the local bar/restaurant is next door (but that the place is big enough that you can't really hear it from the villa) and this might well have been one of the finest holiday residences ever.

More notes from Spain to follow...

Monday, 7 December 2009

Dusting Off The Cobwebs

He shuffled his way in, looking awkward, shifting from one foot to the other and avoiding eye contact. He mumbled some excuses about being busy and being sorry that you hadn't heard from him recently but it was too late for you. You'd moved on to other blogs, blogs that were updated with regular, original content and not just lazy video links posted about six weeks ago. He could see that it was fruitless, that you just didn't need him anymore. Shoulders slumped with sadness and despair, he sidled his way out the way he came in and switched off the lights behind. Which was pretty rude, really, as it was your place and that left you standing in the dark...

No, only joking, you haven't really got rid of me. I'm much harder to shift than that, a lot like a really old gravy stain. In fact, I'm back from the whirlwind of getting things done that we call "real life". So what have I been doing? Many and varied things. In order to make it seem more interesting, here is a list of what I have potentially been doing. Only three of these things are true.

1. Inventing time travel by coming back from the future with the designs for the time machine I'm about to build.

2. Moving house.

3. Designing a revolutionary new concept in footwear that renders the common shoe obsolete.

4. Jungle vote overseeing.

5. Spending two weeks on the run from an international consortium of shoe manufacturers who are trying to have me killed for my new design which threatens their very way of life.

6. Proudly best man-ing.

So fairly quiet all round, really. Time to get back into the swing of posting you some inane jabberings that have poured from my head and are now seeping in through your eyes. That's starting to sound rather unsavoury so I think I'll stop that there. What's to come? Well, probably the usual round of both stuff and things combined together in a wordy way. Exciting teaser to make you come back for more, isn't it? Yes, I thought so, too.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Midweek Fun - Who You Gonna Call?

OK, I'm running out of steam for a week's worth of posts while I'm off in sunny Spain so you're mostly getting cheating-style video posts. And today is no exception. As we're heading towards Halloween, here's something to get the spooky mood going. Enjoy.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

The Big Six Oh

There once was a bloke called Ray
Celebrating his 60th birthday
Taking the family
Away over the sea
For much drinking day after day

Happy 60th, Pops!

[Admittedly, potentially a pretty pointless post as a) none of us are near interweb access; 2) we're all together anyway so I'll be saying it in person (the birthday wish, not the limerick); and c) he doesn't read this blog. Still, it's the thought that counts, I reckon.]

Monday, 26 October 2009

Review - Up 3D

In a nutshell:- Pixar does it again.

The Basics:- Seems hard to believe but this is the tenth Pixar film and the ninth one that I've watched*. It's also their first film to venture into the realm of 3D and continues a growing sense of maturity in their films. Up follows the adventures of septuagenarian Carl as he attempts to follow his dead wife's dream of adventure by flying his house by helium balloon to South America. However, the presence of a stowaway wilderness scout called Russell and the discovery of a rare giant bird means that things don't go quite to plan...

The Good:- I feel a little bit like I'm repeating myself but it really does seem like Pixar's films get better every time. The opening sequence which takes us heartbreakingly through Carl and his wife Ellie's life together, bringing us right up to his current state of widowhood, seems a far cry from Pixar's beginnings with Toy Story and A Bug's Life. That's not to bash those early films - they're still fantastic films - it just shows how Pixar is unwilling to stick with a tried and tested successful formula simply because it works; if it's part of the story, then that's the direction they're going on. That's not to say that they've ignored the funny - there are some great moments of verbal and visual humour. Pixar certainly know their slapstick - witness Russell's window-scraping moment as a particular highlight. The 3D also adds considerably to the film and not in the standard "poking-things-out-towards-the-camera" sort of way. It adds real depth to the sweeping South American scenes and the climactic set pieces, feeling like it's being utilised wisely instead of gratuitously.

The Bad:- Not a lot to pick out here but, for me, the characters of the enemy dogs didn't quite work as well and the joke of the helium-voiced Alpha dog fell a little flat. It's only a minor niggle, however - I'm really just dredging to think of something bad to say!

The Verdict:- Another triumph. Funny, sad, exciting and uplifting**, Pixar is one of the few film studios that seems to completely buck the law of diminishing returns. Go see it. If you're disappointed by it then I'm afraid there may be no hope for you. Plus it's got a teaser for Toy Story 3 and you know, given their track record so far, that's a sequel that's more than likely to be worth a watch...

* I've never watched Cars. For some reason, the premise just didn't really grab me. It all looked a bit pedestrian. That was an unintentional pun. Honest. I do that a lot.

** I did quite well to not use words like that up until the end, I thought.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Weekend Fun - Coming Soon-Style Goodness

I'm actually away for the next week* but, by the miracle of modern technology, will continue to post some stuff even though I'm not anywhere near a computer and am wending my merry way to a villa in Barcelona**. As the weekend's are traditionally quiet round these parts and to give myself less to write (workshy fop that I am), here's a little video post for you.

Today's installment is a little masterclass in the way that trailers should be done more often:-

* Which is why you won't get any response to comments. I'm not being rude,. I'm just not here. Well, and maybe being a little rude, too.

** Note to burglars - this is not true. I'm sat at home with a shotgun in my hand just waiting for you to make the first move. Punk.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Let's Be Nice Out There

Now, I know that the world of the blog is traditionally the place to find ill-informed rantings and woefully self-absorbed bile, so here's a post that does absolutely nothing to dispel that popular image.

There is a particular brand of joy that is thrust upon many millions of people every working day. It's a form of transportation that would, in all likelihood, be illegal for cattle and yet is somehow not only perfectly acceptable for humans but also increasingly overpriced. It is known as commuting and a more perfect generator of human misery has yet to be devised. For not only is it arduous and torturous in itself but the people what do have to use it also seem to take an almost perverse delight in making things more miserable for themselves.

Let's run through some basic etiquette for travelling on a form of transport that you have to share with other people, shall we? (The clue's in the name - "Public Transport"; there's no getting away from other people.)

Getting On? Let 'Em Off - This one should be a no-brainer and yet it somehow seems to stump many people on a daily basis. If you want to get on the train/tube/bus, you need to let other people get off first. In order for there to be enough room for you inside, there needs to be less people inside. It's very simple. If you try to push past the people getting off in order to get on, they can't get off and you can't get on. That's fairly basic physics, really.

Standing People Off First - Now, this one's more of a personal gripe but I believe it's valid nonetheless - when a train reached it's final destination, if someone has been standing for the entire journey and you have been seated, you let them off first. The train's not going anywhere, it's the final stop. Those extra few seconds of you rushing to get up and push past the standing people isn't going to make a huge difference to your onward journey. Enjoy that seat for a few more moments and let the miserable standing people go.

Bike + Train + Crowded Rush Hour = You Suck - On one of my recent early morning commuting journeys from my gorgeous girlfriend's place to my place of employment, a man had decided to take up four side-facing seats with his pushbike. As is natural at this time of day, the train became extremely crowded and people became irate. When someone attempted to point out to this prize numpty that you couldn't take a bike on a rush hour train, his only response was, "Yes, you can." When pushed further, his only further retorts were a simple "I'm not arguing about this"; the discursive equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears and going "La, la, la, la, la, I can't hear you." When he reached his stop, a large proportion of the carriage received shin injuries as he indelicately extricated himself. Moral of the story? That guy's a dick. Don't be that guy.

There are more - oh so may more - which I could go into at great diatribinal length but, let's face it, you're already looking at your watch and wondering when all this is going to end. Fine, go on, nip off, I release you. Just make sure you're polite otherwise you may end up the subject of a vitriolic piece of online frippery which will be read by about nine people who will smile wryly before forgetting it and wondering what they've having for supper. Chilling thought, isn't it?

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Review - District 9

In a nutshell:- Great South African sci-fi flick.

The Basics:- Based on his previous short film, Alive In Joburg, and produced by hobbit-filming beardy himself, Peter Jackson, District 9 is writer/director Neill Blomkamp's debut feature film. It tells the story of an alternate South Africa which, for the last twenty years, has been home to a dispossessed aliens - found in a stalled spaceship floating above Johannesburg. We follow Wikus Van De Merwe, a low-level bureaucrat, as he attempts to evict the aliens (nicknamed "Prawns") from the refugee camp District 9 - an eviction that doesn't go as planned...

The Good:- This is a film that could have easily dwelt in a heavy-handed fashion on the parallels between the aliens' plight and the real-life political situation in South Africa but, after establishing the links, it neatly sidesteps that and focuses instead on Wikus, an initially unlikeable little character who you eventually come to identify with, even if he does retain some of that unlikeability throughout. It's a nice film in that it seems to be going in a certain direction before switching and changing into a slightly different film than originally anticipated. The set-up is nicely realised and there are some nice moments of bleak humour as well as some genuinely bleak moments. It also shifts into an action-oriented gear towards the end and has some impressive action moments. There's something about that kind of harks back to the actiony sci-fi flicks that I grew up watching in the late eighties - Terminator, Predator, Robocop.

The Bad:- There are a few plot holes here and there (which I won't particularly go into for those of you that haven't seen it yet) and the occasional slightly infuriating film cliche (how come the man on the run still has valid security codes to his previous place of employment? First thing you;d change, surely!) but for the most part, it stands up well. The only thing that I'm not sure is totally successful is the mixing between the mock-documentary style and the traditional filmmaking style. To me, it felt slightly out of place at times. But these are minor niggles.

The Verdict:- It's refreshing to see a sci-fi film that isn't either a continuation of an existing franchise or the beginnings of a new one. It's pacey, it's entertaining, it has some great action, it wears it's South African heritage on it's sleeve and it's juts a good sci-fi film. I definitely recommend it if you haven't been to see it already.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009


He opens the door and it makes a protesting, creaking noise; it hasn't been used in some time and seems to feel resentful of being called back into service. It's dim in here and his hand fumbles for the light cord. The light comes on but, somehow, it seems only to highlight the gloom rather than dispel it. All around, boxes are placed randomly. Said boxes are covered in a small layer of dust.

He approaches the first one and blows at the dust, an action which only succeeds in producing a small but perfectly formed cloud of dusty particles and a slight but irritating cough at the back of his throat. (What an odd thing to say. Like he's going to cough from some other part of his anatomy. An elbow maybe?)

The boxes are all pretty much empty; for the most part, just a label on each one. He browses through them, smiling as he goes, gently wiping at a layer of dust here and there (but carefully, so as not to provoke another miniature coughstorm). Eventually, he spies the one he was which he was searching for and gathers it up, leaving the way he came and pinging off the light as he leaves.

He takes the box back downstairs. The curious eyes are there waiting. With great ceremony, he turns the box towards them. They can see the writing on the side. It simply says, in rather crude capital letters written in a child-like spidery scrawl, "Slack".

He clears his throat (a little bit of boxy dust still clinging in there). They wait expectantly, breath baited.

"My name is Nick," says he, "and I'm a lazy blogger. But I'm going to get better. Well, as soon as I get back from holiday. Which is next week. So, probably next month, I guess."

The overwhelming feeling of anticlimax in the room is palpable yet not unexpected.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

The Future Ain't What It Used To Be

A sci-fi website that I look at regularly asked the question, whilst reviewing reprints of old pulp SF, do science fiction classics still matter? It's the sort of question that comes up frequently - if you've got speculative fiction based on an imaginary future, does it lose its power once that future fails to come true or once modern technology has outpaced the writer's ideas to such an extent that what was once futuristic is now dated and anachronistic? Well, I tend to agree to with the article which stated that, for the most part, a well-written story still holds it power regardless of when it first came out (the example they use being Jane Austen - would you dismiss Pride And Prejudice simply because it was written in a different time with different values to our own?*).

I'd go a little bit further than they do, however. I'd say that there are very few examples of science fiction that becomes worthless or irrelevant simply because it no longer presents a vision of the future. As has been said before, the majority of science fiction is an extrapolation and reflection of the period during which it was written and, as such, even the most pulpy old SF can, seemingly paradoxically, show us something about our past.

So basically, sci fi is aces even if it's rubbish because, even then, it's still brills. With that overly long preamble in mind, let's highlight some classic works that don't always get a look in with those who tend to shy away from the science-y fiction-y stuff.

The Forever War by Joe Haldeman - A realistic view of war in space in which, due to relativity, soldiers fighting for weeks or years at a time return home to find centuries have passed. leaving them increasingly alienated and disconnected from the war they're fighting. First published in 1974, it's a clear allegory on America's involvement in Vietnam - Haldeman was a Vietnam vet who was wounded in combat.

Last And First Men by Olaf Stapledon - A history book which spans the next couple of million of years of human evolution. It's unusual in that it is written as a faux text book, although don't let that put you off - the breadth of speculative imagination on display is fantastic for a book published in 1930.

The Stars My Destination (or Tiger! Tiger!) by Alfred Bester - Bester is often cited by a lot of sci-fi/fantasy/horror authors as one of the greats. The novel features a genuinely unlikeable, monstrous protagonist but is no less compelling for it.

I could go on and list many more - including some truly pulpy ones Edgar Rice Burroughs' Mars books** - but I've rambled enough already and, to be honest, I don't have as snappy an ending as I did a beginning. So I'll just leave it there for now.

* Personally, I'd dismiss it because I found it tedious and annoying but that's just my opinion.

** And please note that I don't mean pulpy in a dismissive or disrespectful way - I enjoy those books as much as the ones listed above, just perhaps in a slightly different way.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Films What You Almost Forget Are Brilliant - Aliens

"Game over, man, game over."

Sometimes, you get so used to something that you almost completely forget about it and just take it for granted. This film is one of those... well, I'd say it's almost a blind spot that I have where I like it so much and have seen it so often that it no longer even registers when people ask me what films I like because I assume everyone else likes it, too.

I have an almost indecent amount of affection for this film. I know what you're thinking* and, yes, it is unusual for someone to love a sequel more than the original but that's just the way it is and you;re going to have to live with it, I'm afraid. Sounds almost like film geek heresy, doesn't it, for someone to say that they love the sequel over the much-revered Ridley Scott first film. But don't get me wrong. The first film is a great film and quite rightly hailed as a classic. I'm not saying that I dislike the first film in any way, shape or form. I just think I enjoy the sequel more.

Why? I'm not really sure. Possibly because it takes such a different tack than the first film, veering away from the taught, claustrophobic nature of Alien and planting it's booted, military, macho feet firmly in action country**. Possibly because it feels like there are occasional moments of levity in amongst the carnage. Possibly because it builds on the people and creatures established in the first film with floor-skittering facehuggers and dropship-hiding alien queens. I don't think I can necessarily put my finger on one thing.

Whatever it is, this film has it and makes it endlessly rewatchable in my book. Forget the CGI snooze-fest that is Titanic*** - this is James Cameron at the top of his game.

* Yes, I do always say that but then again, I do always know what you're thinking - stop thinking about that, it's dirty and you'll go blind.

** And that's not to say that Aliens doesn't have some taught, claustrophobic moments because it certainly does, in particular the scene where Newt is trapped in the medical bay with the escaped facehugger.

*** Well? Go on. I said forget it!

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Pointless Filler Material

So, in the last three months, having mostly wasted a good six months of bloggy steam that was built up, I'm slowly trying to get my blog on again. I think, for the remainder of September, you'll get the occasional piece of brain run-off as the cogs start whirring, the machinery starts juddering into steam-belching life and little misshapen nuggets of bloggety lumps begin to spout forth from the rusty inner workings. Then, come the month that is the one that we call October (being previous to November yet surely tardy of September), I'll try and re-instate the first rule of the blog and we all know what that is - the first rule of the blog is that you do not make lame Fight Club references. The second rule of the blog will also be reinstated - one blog per day (restrictions permitting). Time to get the old noggin a-firing again.

So let's stumble our way haphazardly out of the remainder of the month and regroup all fresh-faced and fancy-free when the next one rolls around, shall we? Alrighty then.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009


Disclaimer:- For those of you from outside the UK, this one might not mean a lot...

The Cockney flags are flying at half mast, the tubs of jellied eels come in respectful black polystyrene and the market stalls are closing early. Yes, it's a sad day as Cockney songsmiths extraordinaire Chas 'n' Dave have, after 35 Rockney years, gone their separate ways.

Now, obviously, thanks to name-checking by pointless, attention-seeking junkie and supposed musician Pete Doherty*, the duo had achieved a new-found sense of fame in that arch, sneering, ironic, studenty way and, fair play to them, they didn't seem to mind - money spent going to see their gigs was still money spent on their gigs, regardless of the intent behind it. But I have to say that my enjoyment of them has always been heartfelt and (mostly) un-ironic.

"Really? Chas 'n' Dave? You actually genuinely like them?" I hear you say. Oh yes, very much so. Partly because their songs are good, daft, old-fashioned fun but also because their music is inextricably linked with happy memories throughout my life. Let's assess the nostalgic evidence...

1. Der Family. As is always the way, different generations have different musical tastes and you're unlikely to find something that three different generations agree upon. Enter Chas 'n' Dave. My Nana and Grandad had the 7" single (oh yes, vinyl) of Rabbit (with The Sideboard Song as the B side) and it was very much played incessantly by both grandchildren and enjoyed by parents and grandparents alike. generally accompanied by much frantic jigging about the living room. (Well, until we'd listened to it enough times and The Muppet Movie soundtrack went on instead. Or maybe Jungle Book.)

2. First Festival. I'd never been fussed that much by the idea of festival-going. There was just something about being dirty, muddy and unclean that never really appealed. Then, in January 2005, I suddenly woke up one morning and decided I was going to go to Glastonbury. So, having decided to go to Glasto for the first time, who should I discover are playing but the Cockney boys themselves? And quite the gig it was too. Having thought I was one of about 5 people who actually liked them, it was quite a delight to be in a field with 7,500 other people jumping around like idiots to Rabbit and Gertcha.

3. Job Offer. So, I was at a folk festival in Oxfordshire, pretty drunk on home-made cider and jumping around like a mad thing to the opening act who were... well, I'm sure you can probably imagine by now**... when I get a call to tell me that my second interview was successful and they'd like to offer me the job. Three years later and I'm still here...

Good times and Chas 'n' Dave. A natural association. But sadly no more. So, pork pie hats off to the boys and huge Cockney thanks for all the memories. Wallop, they've gone down.

Play us out, lads...

* I'm not a big fan of his. Does it show?

** No, I'm not quite sure why they were at a folk festival but the important thing is that were.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Directors What Are Great - Jean-Pierre Jeunet

And so, to comply with the second popular demand (of one), today's blog will be film-related (never let it be said that your humble Baldy Fella doesn't listen to his audience). As comes as no surprise, I tend to notice specific film directors and look out for their films. It could that I like their style or their substance or, in some cases, both but, generally, once I've picked up on a director, I'll follow them until they interest me no more (and, even then, I'll normally keep giving them the benefit of the doubt until they consistently keep missing the mark for me). So, I was pleased to see that there's a new film by Jean-Pierre Jeunet called MICMACs debuting at this year's London Film Festival.

"Who he?" I hypothetically pretend I can hear some of you asking. Well, I shall tell you by describing some of his previous films and why I do like them so.

Delicatessen - In a nutshell:- Twisted, post-apocalyptic, cannibalistic fun. With and directed alongside Marc Caro, this very much sets out their visual and comedic style with a bleakly comic tale about a young man who begins working for a butcher in a future where meat is very scarce... Favourite sequence? The often imitated sex scene in which the activities of the residents in the department builds in time with the lovemaking to a frantic crescendo.

City Of Lost Children - In a nutshell:- The French equivalent of a Terry Gilliam fantasy. Again collaborating with Marc Caro, the two craft a distinctive world peopled by a fascinating selection of grotesques in which simple giant One and cynical little girl Miette search for One's lost little brother. Favourite moment? Dominque Pinon's portrayal of a selection of clones afflicted by narcolepsy.

Amelie - In a nutshell:- One of my favouritest films ever. I've blathered on about this one plenty of times before but basically it's a romantic comedy that manages to be stylish, funny and touching without being nauseatingly, vomit-inducingly sentimental like most other romcoms. Favourite moment? Any point of the film which features Audrey Tautou's lovely face (so most of it, really). And he trots out another funny sex scene in this one, too.

Alien Resurrection - In a nutshell:- Not as bad as it should be but still not that great. Jeunet makes the leap to Hollywood for the fourth Alien film and, while he manages to inject it with some of his distinctive style, it's still the least successful of the Alien films.

A Very Long Engagement - In a nutshell:- Good but somehow the least engaging of his films so far. It's a more straightforward tale and once again features a great performance form Audrey Tautou (is it obvious that I fancy her quite a bit? Hmm, yeah, thought so) but somehow seem to be lacking slightly in the stylish little directorial touches that make his stuff so distinctive. It's an enjoyable film but doesn't quite live up to his previous efforts.

So, as far as I can see, he hasn't made a bad film (Alien resurrection was average at worst) and, if you haven't caught any of the above, I sincerely recommend that you try Delicatessen, City Of Lost Children and Amelie, the last one probably being the most accessible. And I for one will definitely be giving MICMACs a look when it comes out.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Four Colour Glory - The Flash

By popular request (OK, well, there was one request for comics and one for films so, as the comics request came first, here you go), today's blog shall be comics related. So let's get cracking, shall we?

I've always been more of a DC reader when it comes to superhero comics. One of the differences between Marvel and DC is that Marvel heroes are, for the most part, always linked with their alter ego. Spider-Man is always Peter Parker, The Hulk is very definitely Bruce Banner, Wolverine is...well, you get the idea. DC tends to have a more generational aspect to it's characters. OK, not so much with Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman (although Bruce Wayne is currently absent from under the mask) but more so with it's secondary characters. Heroes such as Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Starman and The Flash are almost badges of office held by different characters throughout DC's long history - a mantle that is passed from generation to generation.

Of these secondary heroes, the one that appealed the most was The Flash. The version I started reading, many, many moons ago, was the Wally West version - the third man to be called The Flash - and it was, in fact, alongside Batman, one of the first superhero comics I started reading. I think the most interesting thing to me was the generational aspect. Here was a hero trying to live up to the previous man to hold the title Flash (his uncle, Barry Allen), a man who had sacrificed his life to save the universe. What made it more interesting was that Wally didn't always do the right thing or make the right decision and that he could be occasionally petulant, arrogant or even unlikeable at times. Over the years, he matured and developed from the doubt-ridden young upstart into a dedicated family man.

It's an unusual amount of development for a superhero, particularly as most long-running titles tend to prefer their heroes to remain reasonably unchanged in order to draw in new readers. The only disappointment is that in the last couple of years, they seem to have been unsure where to go with the character and now seem to be throwing him somewhat unceremoniously aside for a resurrected Barry Allen in the latest series The Flash: Rebirth (as this is comics, death is never really very permanent although at 23 years dead, he's had a pretty good stab at it). I'm sure he'll stick around as a supporting character but it seems that Wally West's time as The Flash is pretty much done and I for one will miss him.

Recommended Reading:-
The Flash: Born To Run by Mark Waid
The Flash: The Return Of Barry Allen by Mark Waid
The Flash: Blood Will Run through to Rogue War by Geoff Johns

Monday, 14 September 2009

To Blog Or Not To Blog

Quite naturally, my mind has been focused in other directions over the last few months. A fairly continuous blur of various Adobe-designed programs have dominated my waking (and occasionally sleeping) life for a goodly while now. But that time has now passed. The Great Editing Frenzy is no more and the brain is once again allowed to wander and meander and stroll and divert and digress so, really, there's no excuse for not blogging anymore.

Except that it seems that blogging is a relatively easy habit to fall out of. You have what effectively amounts to a three month break (with the occasional dip of a writerly toe into waters bloggy) and the mind starts to curdle somewhat. All those potential ideas and brilliantly pithy stories and anecdotes seem to have blended into a sort of grey sludgy slurry. It's kind of like one of those recipes where it's all gone the wrong colour (a sort of worrying dull brown) and, no matter how many ingredients you lob in to the increasingly noxious broth, it's not going to change into a vibrantly and colourfully enticing culinary delight. It has become, and ever shall be, brownish cack.

So, I guess it's time to throw out the original concoction and start afresh. New day, new dawn, new blog.




So, shall I talk about comics or films first?

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Buy the DVD! Buy the DVD! Buy the DVD!

I know, I go away sunning myself by the pool, beer in hand, for a little bit and come back with something that's not so much a blog post as a shameless plug. But what's the occasional shameless plug between friends, eh? Exactly.

As you may well have heard me mention (I have kept very quiet about it, true), the feature length film that I've been working on is now complete. Not only that but it is now available to buy on shiny DVD for you to own and cherish and maybe even put up in some of loving display case (entirely a matter for you to decide).

"How do we buy this masterpiece that is known as Incidental Weekend?", I pretend to hear you cry.

It's very, very simple. You go to this link here which takes you the Trickshot site, you press the "Buy Now" button towards the end of the page and, for the very reasonable sum of just five of your English pounds (plus postage and packing), you can own the film everyone's talking about. And by "everyone", I do of course mean "me incessantly".

What do you get for this very reasonable amount? Well, you get the film itself, a commentary by yours truly and co-writer/director/producer Rich, behind the scenes features, trailers and a music video by the band Honeycube (as featured at the screening and in its uncensored form).

Also available is a very reasonable 3 for 2 deal on our previous DVD releases which means that you can pick up another 3 DVDs for the princely sum of £6 (plus P&P). I know, you're right, we are very good to you.

So don't delay, go buy today!

"So when are you actually going to write some proper blogs instead of bigging yourself up all the time and trying to get us to give you money?", I'm probably far more likely to hear you ask. Well, I'll tell you the answer to that. Next time...

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Incidental Weekend - it's escaped...

So these two blokes had an idea. It was about a reunion for university friends. And that idea led to a group of characters somehow coming into existence, with lives and back-stories and everything. And that group of characters somehow created and were part of a series of events. And that particular series of events (non-linear though they were) metamorphosed into a script. And that script was acted out by a bunch of talented and enthusiastic actors in front of a camera. And those filmed scenes were painstakingly edited together over an unfortunately prolonged period of time. And then they were set to music with sound effects added and everything. And transferred to DVD in order to be displayed upon screens ranging from quite small to rather large indeed.

And tonight, around 130 people sat in a West End cinema and, despite some writer/director niggling problems with sound syncing, they enjoyed the film called Incidental Weekend that had somehow managed to coherently emerge out of the above process.

And Nick looked upon it and saw that four years worth of work was good.

And then was very much pleased that tomorrow he goes on holiday with his lovely girlfriend. He's earned this holiday, he's bloody well going to enjoy it.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Review - Let The Right One In

In a nutshell:- Character-based Swedish arthouse vampire film.

The Basics:- Based on the novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist (who also wrote the screenplay), it tells the story of outsider Oskar who is being bullied at school and doesn't seem to fit in. He meets new neighbour Eli, a girl who doesn't seem to to feel the cold from the snow and only seems to come out at night and they strike up a friendship...

The Good:- It's engaging, beautifully shot and features great performances form the two young stars as Oskar and Eli. It's very much unlike your standard vampire film, concentrating on the burgeoning love affair between the two main characters. That's not to say it shies away from moments of vampiric blood-letting but that's not the focus of the film. It's a very ambiguous film - both in some of the details about Eli and also morally which is quite refreshing. There's no clear cut right and wrong in the film - this is just what happens to the characters and how they behave. The film also has some nice use of traditional vampire lore - at one point, we see exactly what happens to Eli when she enters a house into which she hasn't been invited...

The Bad:- To be honest, I can't think of anything bad to say about the film. The only bad thing I can think of is the quite frankly bizarre UK marketing campaign for the DVD release of the film which is pitching it as a blood-soaked, scare-a-minute, terrifying horrorfest which is exactly the sort of film that it isn't. As campaigns go, it's truly odd - the sort of viewer attracted to the kind of Hostel-style slasher film they're pitching it as will be put off by the films languid pace and emphasis of character over schlock and, conversely, the viewer who might enjoy an odd, character-based, arthouse-style film wouldn't be enticed by the promise of shocks and gore. Utterly strange.

Closing Remarks:- Definitely one to watch - it's odd and creepy with some great performances and some nice directorial touches (particularly the scene in the swimming pool). Go and see it before Hollywood remakes it as "Let Me In" and completely spoils it.*

* This is on the way. Successful foreign film = instant crap Hollywood remake. It's the rules.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Review -Terminator Salvation

Warning - here be spoilers...

In a nutshell:- Future-y Terminator-style shenanigans.

The Basics:- I'm a big fan of the first two Terminator films. Good, solid sci-fi action films which quite rightly, along with Aliens, cemented James Cameron as your man to go for a good quality sci-fi blockbuster*. I held off watching the third one for quite some time as it was pretty universally panned, only watching it for the first time a couple of months back. Admittedly, it wasn't great but it wasn't an awful film. No, it's main crime was that it was utterly superfluous. I didn't feel that it added one single thing to the universe set up in the first two films. So, would this additional sequel prove to be any better.

The Good:- The film takes the right first step in moving away from the whole Terminator-sent-back-in-time schtick of the previous three films and giving us a good look at the future post-Judgment Day world. There are some impressively realised new Terminator machines, including one that shoots bike Terminators out of it's legs (it looks a lot cooler than my description) and the overall feeling throughout the film is that of a war movie with hidden headquarters on submarines and isolated resistance pockets scattered about, heightened by John Connor's role as "Voice Of The Resistance".

The Bad:- Well, it doesn't quite feel like the same skull-strewn, war-torn landscape of the first few films (it looks a lot cheaper for starters). It's also extremely predictable - there is no surprise at all in Sam Worthington's character Marcus and I'd surprised if you didn't manage to work him out right from his first appearance. It's got no real sense of humour, something which lightened the first couple of films (sometimes not always completely successfully, admittedly, but still). It also doesn't make a lot of sense - there are plotholes all over the place, particularly SkyNet's unleashing of a Terminator and just hoping that it wander about and bring John Connor back to them. Not really much of a plan. But, most importantly, much like Terminator 3 before it, it also feels utterly superfluous. As it's set before John Connor sends Kyle Reese back in time in the first film, it's effectively a prequel so, again, there's no sense of real danger. John and Kyle have to survive for the first two films to happen.

Closing Remarks:- It's not a bad film, certainly not as bad as some critics would have you believe but it is ultimately pointless. As we're bound to get another installment in the franchise, can I make a request? Set it in the future after the first couple of films and give us some genuinely unknown territory. Go somewhere new and give us some situations where we don't know the outcome and might actually stand a chance of caring about what happens to the characters. Just a thought...

* OK, so he then went on to make the three hour, over-hyped and mostly dull yawnfest that is Titanic but nobody's perfect.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Really Not Very Good At All

In recent weeks, I seem to have gone through a spate of watching some pretty bad films. And not in that fun "so bad, they're good" type of way. Just bad films. Why are they bad and which films do I speak of? Let's find out, shall we?

Journey To The Center Of The Earth
In a nutshell:- Quick, point that at the camera! We're in 3D, you know...
The Verdict:- I kind of hoped that it might turn out to be a dumb but fun blockbuster, something with a bit of a sense of humour. Sadly, I was to be disappointed on that score as it turned out to be a dull and leaden affair, featuring some fairly sub-standard CGI. However, the worst aspect of the film has to be that it was originally shot as a 3D film and is one of those most irritating of 3D films which has many unnecessary shots of people poking things at the camera in order to prove that it is, in fact, 3D. All of which is completely lost when you're watching on normal 2D television.

The Happening
In a nutshell:- M Night Showaddywaddy continues his career decline.
The Verdict:- So, a while back, M Night Shyamalan made an intriguing film called The Sixth Sense with an infamous twist ending*. He followed it up with a slow-paced but enjoyably down-played superhero film, Unbreakable (which I quite enjoyed). Since then, he has churned out a succession of twist-ending based films with increasingly irritating results. I thought Signs was an awful film until this pile of excrement came turding along. I can honestly think of nothing good to say about it. The acting, the script - all atrocious. Worst of all, it limps along to a nothing of an ending and just kind of stops without making any real sense at all. Avoid it. Really, just save yourself the time.

10,000 BC
In a nutshell:- Apparently, woolly mammoths helped build the pyramids.
The Verdict:- Well, I wasn't really expecting this one to be much cop and, in that respect, I wasn't really disappointed. It is, after all, from one of them men who brought us Independence Day. Kate managed to summarise what the upcoming plot would be within the first minute or so** and it pretty much stuck to that. What I didn't expect was that it would be mostly very dull. It didn't really have much in the way of spectacular set pieces - what it did have was a dull version of the hero's journey with improbably well-groomed and erudite cavemen.

So, there you have, some films what I have watched so you don't have to. Of course, it's not all been bad films, I've seen a rather good one recently, too. But that's a blog for another time.

* Is it smug to say that I knew what was going on quite early in? Well, I did , so there.

** In fact, this has become something of a trend. We worked out between us exactly what was going to happen in atheist-Arnie-fights-the-Devil flick End Of Days (I worked out the entire backstory of Arnie's character before he appeared on screen while Kate worked out the specifics of the ending). I didn't get to see the last half of it but I feel like I have...

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

The Stench Of It

As previously stated, I'm very much a city boy at heart. I love the hustle, the bustle, the life, the people, the noise. However, there is one thing, particularly in the city when it's warmer*, that is not always overly pleasant about city life. I'm talking about the near constant assault perpetrated against the olfactory senses by the various niff, pongs, whiffs, smells and stenches that are encountered on a minute by minute basis.

There's that shrubbery in someones garden that seems to have a sweet smell on the surface but is soured by a strong underlying whiff of shit. Next up, it's the underpass that has had so many tramps filling it with their Special Brew-flavoured urine that it has permanent stench of boozy piss. A bit further along the way and there's that walkway up to the station that inexplicably seems to smell really strongly of stale sweat. And, of course, there's the train itself which all-too-explicably smells of stale sweat. That's not counting the various street turds, passing rubbish trucks and food-strewn buses that also give the nostril a swift smellpunch of the way past.

But then... but then... there's the smell of fresh bread and pastries as you walk past the bakery early in the morning. There's that scent of perfume that kicks off a memory of times gone by. Over there, the waft a whole chicken gently roasting on a spit at the deli on the corner. The good smells, the enticing smells, the ones that make you go "mmmm". So maybe it's not all that bad.

Who plants something that smells like shit, though? I mean, seriously. What's that about?

* Not that we've had a huge amount of that this summer. This is England after all and our summers can often consist of three days of blistering heat that we're unprepared for which give us all sun burn followed by weeks of rain that we're then unprepared for as we keep expecting that hot weather to come strolling back in. Ever the dismally pessimistic optimists, eh?

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

A New Era

He stood, legs askance, posture erect and expression one of lordly satisfaction. The domain was his now and he was master of all he surveyed, from the ceremonial line for clothes drying in the conservatory to the washer of the dishes in the kitchen, from the wall of DVDs in the living room to the (much lower now it doesn't have 30 comic boxes underneath it) regal bed in the bedroom. Yes, the flat was his and he planned to enjoy it (on the days of the week when he wasn't round at his girlfriend's anyway).

Yes, prior to their impending nuptials, Bro and Mrs Bro have struck out for a place of their own because no one wants to be the married couple that lives with the brother/brother-in-law (fear not, while they may no longer be flatmates, they are now neighbours, having moved about five roads away).

So, what difference does this make to flat life?

1. You Made That Mess, You Tidy It Up. One plus point is that the flat will always be found in the state in which I left it upon my return. On the down side, however, the flat will be in the state in which I left it upon my return. Cuts both ways that one, really. I have to admit, it has unleashed my inner OCD slightly - the remote controls are back to being lined up in height order before retiring for the night. What? It's nature's way (tallest to smallest).

2. Unlocked. You get ingrained into certain habits via repeated use. But when you're the only person who lives in the house, you really don't need to lock the bathroom door anymore.

3. Born Free. Societal conventions naturally dictate that a reasonably modest selection of outer garments should be adorned when in the company of others. However, if you live on you own, there's no reason not to let the meat and two veg swing free. Come on, you know if you lived on your own, you'd wander about in the nip far more often. Mind you, the postman could be in for a surprise (and a healthy dose of envy) at some point...

Saturday, 25 July 2009

It Lives...

The air is filled with the fizzing and crackling of electricity. Beakers bubble and tubes burble as the driven man goes about his diabolically fiendish work. Interocitors are set to transmit, atomic batteries to power and turbines to speed. His eyes wild with a manic gleam, he sets the final electrodes to the blog-shaped object and throws The Switch. Sparks shower and smoke billows as the BlogThing rises to its dreadful mockery of life...

"It's alive! It's aaaaaliiiive!"

All of which is to say that you would be forgiven for thinking that this blog had died something of an ignoble death over the last month, spluttering and coughing its way to an early and unreported grave. Reports of its death, however, have been greatly exaggerated, although, if it were a beloved family pet, you may want to have the vet on standby just in case.

Yes, you will get blog posts from time to time over the next month or so but it will be a shambling zombie-like half-life of a blog until things get a little quieter. You know, the sort of blog that slowly shuffles up behind you moaning, "Braaiiinnns! Braaaiiiiiinnnns!.

Expect a full comic-book style "yes, it did appear that I plunged to my certain death but I miraculously escaped and won't bore you with the tedious details as to how" type of blog resurrection at an unspecified point in the future.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Ain't Too Proud To Beg

As it has taken three and a half years to get the point where that feature what I did make is being unveiled to the general public, I'm going to take every opportunity to drum up some potential business for the screening. Below is the general bumf about said screening; if you happen to be:- a) in London; b) available on Thursday, 3rd September from 18:00; and c) possessed of a spare five pound note cluttering up your pocket, then this is a night out for you, my friend...

"Yes, it's finally here! Three and half years in the making, the premiere of Incidental Weekend has arrived.

Incidental Weekend tells the story of four friends - Charlie, Will, TJ and Ben - who are meeting for a reunion, ten years after they left university. However, the night doesn't go as planned and the next morning they're left with questions. Why did TJ wake up bloody and bruised in the street? Who is the girl in the bed that Will seems desperate to sneak away from? Why is Charlie so sorry
that Ben has been arrested? And are those who don't learn from the past doomed to repeat it?

The screening will be taking place at the Curzon Soho on Shaftesbury Avenue in the heart of the West End on Thursday, 3rd September 2009. Doors open at 18:00 (but Rich and I will no doubt be lurking in the bar prior to that).

Tickets are now available from for those of you who wish to pay by credit card. The price is £5 per ticket and not only does this buy you entry but it also entitles you to a complimentary drink.

There are a limited number of tickets available so make sure you buy now to avoid disappointment! Tickets will be sent by post - there may be a slight wait before you receive your ticket so don't be alarmed if it doesn't turn up straight away!

Incidental Weekend. The screening. Come on, you know you want to..."

Never fear, though, for those what can't get to That There London to see it - there will eventually be news about how to procure a copy for you to peruse in the comfort of your very own home...

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Incidental Weekend - Arriving on 3rd September...

Yes, that film what we made about three and a half years is finally going to see the light of day! On Thursday, 3rd September, we shall be screening it at 18:00 at the Curzon Soho on Shaftesbury Avenue in good old London. In the next couple of days, we'll be putting out information about how you can purchase a ticket to this rather spiffing event (if you happen to be around and in the London area on 3rd September) but, in the meantime, here's a brand, spanking new trailer for you to enjoy (which has been inexplicably squeezed by YouTube even though it's definitely in widescreen).

Have some of that:-

P.S. Given that I have quite a bit to get done over the next few weeks, you may notice a distinct decline in the number of blog posts you get. I leave it to your own discretion as to whether this is a good or a bad thing.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Review - Torchwood: Children Of Earth

In a nutshell:- Doctor Who's underacheiving cousin re-invents itself as an actual drama.

The Basics:- Torchwood is a prime example of a show that's been struggling to live up to it's potential but has been getting closer as it goes along. The first series was mostly awful with the occasional glimmer of promise in there to bring you back*. The second series was vastly improved but still clung on to some of the clunkier moments that made you want to cringe and stop watching in the first place. The third series, by stripping it from a thirteen episode season with an ongoing story-arc down to a single storyline broadcast over the space of five consecutive nights, has taken a big leap forward; oddly, one it's performed by harking back to TV long past...

The Good:- At long last, after three years of promising an "adult" spin-off, Russell T Davies has managed to deliver. For the previous two series, "adult" has, for the most part, been confused with "adolescent"; that general writing consensus seeming to be that by having sex and swearing, it automatically makes it adult as opposed to Hollyoaks with aliens. This is a genuine drama serial, much in the same vein as drama serials of days gone by and has much of the feel of Nigel Kneale's Quatermass serials about it. The serial takes the opportunity to develop a nicely rounded set of supporting characters to complement the main cast and even wisely sidelines John Barrowman for pretty much a whole episode. Standout amongst the supporting cast are Peter Capaldi as Mr Frobisher and Paul Copley as Clement McDonald. There's a suitably creepy feel about the serial, as well - from the kids chanting in unison to the never-fully-revealed alien presence - which brings to mind other serials of the past such as Chocky and The Day Of The Triffids. It also doesn't cop out and go with a neat, tidy, happy-ever-after ending after the grim build-up.

The Bad:- It suffers from one of the usual problems with Russell T Davies' writing - an insistence of emotion over plot logic. There are a couple of moments where it's obvious that they've decided to go for the bleak emotional choice and it does pack a punch but it doesn't necessarily feel like that was the only option available. There's also still that slightly casual disdain for the actual science part of it - the resolution to how to defeat the 456 seems to come a little bit out of nowhere and be set up just that little bit too easily. The whole thing feels just a little bit too long overall - it could have been four episodes or even five 45 minute episodes instead of five hour long episodes.

Closing Remarks:- It's an impressive achievement - turning a campy, adolescent sci-fi spin-off into a genuine gripping drama - and one that's been borne out by the high ratings the series received on BBC1; no mean feat for a country that's still fairly sci-fi phobic in the main when it comes to TV (Doctor Who is very much the exception rather than the rule). The question has been asked of where next for the show, given the seemingly final resolution. I'm one of those who would be quite happy for there not to be a next as, a few minor niggles aside, this is a high quality finale for the show to go out on. Anything following it runs the risk of being something of an anti-climax.

* I actually gave up on it after about four episodes only to give it another chance a bit later on.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Four Colour Glory - Batman Reborn

Towards the end of last year, much was made in the press about DC Comics killing off Bruce Wayne. In fact, this was all very misleading and one of those examples of a story being blown out of proportion in order to generate some sales and publicity. Yes, the man who was Batman is seen apparently being killed but it wasn't even in the issue that DC publicised and also, in the series that he does "die" in, it's made pretty clear at the end that he's not actually dead and he'll be back along to pick up the cape again at some point in the future and everything will just be all back to normal again. Even the writer of the storyline in question, Scotland's own Grant Morrison, stated in interviews that of course he'd be back. Death in the world of comics isn't necessarily that much of a handicap (Marvel Comics killed off Captain America a couple of years ago and the first issue of Captain America: Reborn hit the shops last week).

So, after a few months of trying to drum up some tension about who the new Batman is when we all knew it would be Dick Grayson (the first Robin) and weren't fooled by their attempts to pretend otherwise, we are now getting down to business in the brave new world they've created for the Batman family of comics. Now, I must admit, there was a certain weary sense of deja vu about all this for me. See, I started reading Batman comics about 16/17 years ago at which time the main storyline involved Bruce Wayne having his back broken and someone else taking over as Batman (Bruce got better, naturally). There was a sense that maybe I'd come full circle - this was where I got on the train in the first place; maybe it was time to get off? But I'm nothing if not a sucker when it comes to being a collector so I decided to give it all a go and see. And I'm glad I did.

First up is Grant Morrison's new title Batman And Robin which is trying to inject a little of the old school weirdness and fun back into Batman while still keeping it reasonably dark. And, so far, he's succeeding. It's like a breath of fresh air, putting a bit of new life into the old familiar characters. It's bright and vibrant but still has some chilling and horrific moments. (In fact, there's a slight hint of Morrison's run on New X-Men in there.) Next up is the flagship title of DC (after all, it initially gave the company its name) Detective Comics which now showcases Batwoman. The artwork and design is great but the storyline leaves a little to be desired; however, I'm curious to see where it goes. Over in Batman, we're getting some nice insight into Dick Grayson struggling to fill in for his adoptive and presumed deceased father which counterpoints the madness going on over in Batman And Robin.

Then we come to the new titles - Streets Of Gotham, Gotham City Sirens and Red Robin. Streets Of Gotham has a more than a hint of the sadly departed Gotham Central about it as it follows Gotham's police force on their day to day business. Gotham City Sirens is the best of the new titles, following the adventures of Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy and Catwoman. Being that it's written by Paul Dini, one of the main men behind the 90s Batman cartoon, it's no surprise that it has a lot of the feel of that show (and, seeing as he created her, no one quite writes Harley Quinn as well as he does). The weak link of the bunch is Red Robin but I feel it's going to be key as it centres on the effort to find Bruce Wayne (seeing as Batman And Robin and Red Robin are both due to run for 12 issues, I can think we can all guess when Bruce Wayne will be back...)

Is it worth it? For a long time Batman fan, absolutely. It feels like a much needed shot in the arm and, for the first time in a while, I'm actually looking forward to Batman titles again when they come out. Here's to a year or so without Bruce Wayne. Maybe he should die more often...

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Four Colour Glory - Wednesday Comics

Over the last three years or so, DC Comics have been experimenting with weekly comics to a mixed degree of success. It all kicked off with 52 which was set a fairly high standard and showcased some of the more minor characters of the DC Universe who don't always get a look in; the concept being being that each issue covered a week in a year during which Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman were absent. While it sometimes struggled with juggling the five or six main storylines, it was always compelling and came to a satisfying conclusion. Sadly, they chose to follow this up with the ultimately pointless Countdown, a year-long lead-in to a series which it ended up directly contradicting and having no influence on due to some unfortunate editorial bungling (which is a shame as it started in a promising fashion). The follow-up Trinity was somewhere inbetween - at least what I read of it; I gave it up about two-thirds of the way in in an effort to save a little cash.

Which leads us to the latest weekly comic that DC have launched this week - Wednesday Comics, as comics come out on a Wednesday in the States. Do you see what they did there? Unfortunately, that title becomes slightly meaningless over here as we don't get them til a Thursday but still... They've gone down a different road this time. Instead of the usual format comic with a complete storyline, they've gone for a broadsheet-sized affair of just 16 pages and each story lasting for only one page (and being continued in subsequent issues). The idea being that want to hark back to the time of oversized comics with the Sunday papers with individual strips which ran from half a page to a page a time.

The first thing to say is that it looks gorgeous. The design and feel of a broadsheet-sized comic is definitely very appealing and the artists they've shosen (for the most part) deserve to have their work shown off in this fashion. They've also lined up a nice array of creators and characters. Sure, you've got the expected outings for Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman but, alongside them, you've got a lot of the older niche characters like The Metal Men, Metamorpho and Adam Strange. The whole thing definitely has an old-school feel about it; a combination of that newspaper sensibility they're emulating combined the anthology feel of earlier DC titles.

Is it any good? Well, as with any anthology, it's a mixed bag. Some of the tales seem to lend themselves nicely to being doled out a page at a time, others less so. The most intriguing ones for me are Batamn, Kamandi, Metamorpho, Strange Adventures and Metal Man. The clunkers so far are Teen Titans, Hawkman and a slightly confusing page of Wonder Woman. However, it is only week one and I'm still intrigued to see how it all develops over time.

Is it worth buying? Well, if you have a passing interest in comics, then yes, I'd say so, if only to see DC trying something both retro and slightly experimental at the same time. It remains to be seen whether it will manage to sustain my interest over the twelve week run but, for now, I'm intrigued enough to stay signed up for my Thursday dose of Wednesday Comics.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Whither Baldy?

Your Nick has been slack
On this he is clear
A Nack Attack lack
Well, never you fear

He's bound to be back
To his usual guff
When he finds that old knack
To write about stuff

For geeks and for nerds
Could be young, could be old
For blokes and for birds
Could be shy, could be bold

It's just a little rest
Recharge the grey cells
But like a stubborn pest
Or the clingiest of smells

You'll find once again
That he won't go away
And you'll have a yen
For that odd quiet day